april 16/BIKERUN

bike: 16 minutes
run: 2.3 miles
basement
outside: 54 degrees / rain, wind

Before I started writing this but after my workout, I got up from my chair and my right kneecap missed the groove and slipped out hard. So hard that I uncontrollably yelled, “God Dammit!” No pain and it went right back in, or I was able to pop it back in. But it was shocking — mentally and physically. My LCL or meniscus seem as reticent to walk as my brain does — a strange sentence to write: can you imagine ligaments feeling something independent of the brain? Now I’m nervous about when this might happen again. As is usually the case, I had absolutely no warning. I didn’t do anything abrupt or dramatic; I just stood up and turned. I’ll get over it in a few minutes and stop imagining different scenarios in my head when the kneecap suddenly slides and it hurts and I can’t get it back into place. For now, I’ll breathe and attempt to remember how happy I was to work out before my subluxation.

It’s raining today, and there’s a wind advisory. Decided to go to the basement and do a bike run combo. After pumping up the air in my tire — it is still leaking air even though I got new tires last spring — I found the SuperLeague e-tri championships. I’ve been watching SuperLeague while biking in the basement since it started — when? 2018? Then I ran for 22.5 minutes while I listened to a “If Books Could Kill” podcast and then a playlist.

I don’t remember thinking about much except for that I had to go to the bathroom. Scott and I have new euphemism for it: unfinished business. Anything else? I recall looking straight ahead at the water heater and I remember feeling like a badass when I increased my cadence to try and match the bikers I was watching.

Here’s a victory: I didn’t think at all about the text exchange I had with FWA about what “fun” or “interesting” or “non-music” classes he could take to fill up his pretty bare schedule for senior year. No double major or minors for him. Just music, which he’s very good at, but still . . . . I’m trying to let him figure out his own way, but it’s so hard to watch him make choices that seem foolish or short-sighted. Sigh. Parenting is hard; backing off is hard; trusting is hard. When I worry too much, I’ll go back and watch his recital from Sunday and remember how proud I am of him and that he can (and is) creating an exciting future for himself.

update: I didn’t need to worry; he figured out some great classes on his own: Japanese!, Environmental Geography, and Criminology.

before the bike and run

Yesterday was the poet, Tomas Tranströmer’s birthday. He would have been 92. I’ve posted a few poems from him on here before. While looking for “air” poems, I found this one. It’s an ekphrastic! Those ekphrastic poems keep appearing. Are they trying to encourage me to keep working on my ekphrastic project? I’d like to believe so. Anyway, here’s the Tranströmer poem I found:

Vermeer / Tomas Tranströmer

translated by Robert Bly

It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall
where the alehouse is
with its laughter and quarrels, its rows of teeth, its tears, its chiming of clocks,
and the psychotic brother-in-law, the murderer, in whose presence
everyone feels fear.

The huge explosion and the emergency crew arriving late,
boats showing off on the canals, money slipping down into pockets
— the wrong man’s —
ultimatum piled on the ultimatum,
widemouthed red flowers who sweat reminds us of approaching war.

And then straight through the wall — from there — straight into the airy studio
in the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries.
Paintings that choose the name: “The Music Lesson”
or ” A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.”
She is eight months pregnant, two hearts beating inside her.
The wall behind her holds a crinkly map of Terra Incognita.

Just breathe. An unidentifiable blue fabric has been tacked to the chairs.
Gold-headed tacks flew in with astronomical speed
and stopped smack there
as if there had always been stillness and nothing else.

The ears experience a buzz, perhaps it’s depth or perhaps height.
It’s the pressure from the other side of the wall,
the pressure that makes each fact float
and makes the brushstroke firm.

Passing through walls hurts human beings, they get sick from it,
but we have no choice.
It’s all one world. Now to the walls.
The walls are a part of you.
One either knows that, or one doesn’t; but it’s the same for everyone
except for small children. There aren’t any walls for them.

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”

I love this poem and how it imagines the world outside of the painting and its relationship to the world inside of it. Starting with the first line: It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall . . . . That alehouse, that psychotic brother-in-law. The explosion, the money being dropped into the wrong man’s pocket. Then the airy studio and the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries — the differences between what we notice and try to remember and what we ignore or try to forget — what is worthy of attention, a painting, and what is not.

What is worth noticing in a poem describing a painting, and what is not? The Vermeer painting the poem is titled, “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter,” but there’s no mention of the letter or the woman’s expression, and the blue described by Tranströmer is the blue fabric on the chair, not of the woman’s jacket.

This poem is about the wall, the other side of the wall, the pressure that the other side creates, pressing in on us. The wall between our interior and the exterior world. The edge of the void, the abyss. All of this is kind of, almost, not quite making sense to me. I should spend some more time rereading Tom Sleigh’sToo Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer“.

I’m struck by the last lines:

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
‘I am not empty, I am open.’

I’m thinking of the gorge here and the limestone walls that contain it and how it is both empty of land/rock and filled with air and openness. To think of the void — the unknowable, unsayable, mystery — as both frightening (emptiness, nothingness) and inviting (openness, possibility).

Yesterday I talked about believing in the unseen. Today I’m thinking about what it could mean to be believe in the unseeable. Unseen could mean, not-yet-seen or unnoticed, but unseeable suggests that seeing is never possible.

Before writing this, I was reviewing an old log entry from April 16, 2022. In it, I discuss Elisa Gabbert’s article about poetry and the Void.

They [poets] write in the line, in the company of the void. That changes how you write — and more profoundly, how you think, and even how you are, your mode of being. When you write in the line, there is always an awareness of the mystery, of what is left out. This is why, I suppose, poems can be so confounding. Empty space on the page, that absence of language, provides no clues. But it doesn’t communicate nothing — rather, it communicates nothing. It speaks void, it telegraphs mystery.

By “mystery” I don’t mean metaphor or disguise. Poetry doesn’t, or shouldn’t, achieve mystery only by hiding the known, or translating the known into other, less familiar language. The mystery is unknowing, the unknown — as in Jennifer Huang’s “Departure”: “The things I don’t know have stayed/In this home.” The mystery is the missing mountain in Shane McCrae’s “The Butterflies the Mountain and the Lake”:

the / Butterflies monarch butterflies huge swarms they
Migrate and as they migrate south as they
Cross Lake Superior instead of flying

South straight across they fly
South over the water then fly east
still over the water then fly south again / And now
biologists believe they turn to avoid a mountain
That disappeared millennia ago.

The missing mountain is still there.

The Shape of a Void / Elisa Gabbert

This past weekend, Scott and I watched the 2 part documentary about Steve Martin, STEVE! I really enjoyed it. I remember responding to this idea offered by one of Steve Martin’s artist friends:

How to close the void. I think that’s the nature and the drive in art, it comes from that deep awareness of that void.

STEVE! — 53:30, part 2

I agree with the second part of that statement, about the deep awareness of the void, but not the first — at least how it’s worded. It’s not to close the void, but to navigate it, develop a relationship to it, engage with it, learn how to live with it. I mentioned this to Scott and he argued that the void in this quotation is not the unknown or mystery, but something else. Maybe lack or longing? A desire to be whole? To have/feel meaning? I still don’t like the word close. Can you ever close the void? Tranströmer doesn’t think so; it’s always on the other side of that wall. Even with a wall between you and it, you feel its pressure in your ears. And it’s this pressure that drives/shapes/enables your art — that makes each fact float/and makes the brushstroke firm.

A final (for now) word on this ekphrastic poem: I like how Tranströmer is responding to the work of art in this poem, how we uses the image to reflect on the abyss/void, history, interior/exterior, and why we make art. I want to think about it some more and try to write something for my “How to See” project inspired by his approach.

april 15/RUN

5k
trestle turn around
67 degrees

Ran in the afternoon with Scott. Wore my warm summer attire: black shorts and tank top. Wow. Feels like summer. Tried my new bright yellow running shoes — Saucony Rides. Love the color, but not the fit. My feet and right calf hurt now. Guess these shoes will just be for walking. Oh well.

There was some wind, but mostly it felt refreshing. There was only one stretch where it made running more difficult.

We talked about how the first mile is the hardest, how my shoes weren’t working (poor Scott had to listen to that a lot), and what a badass Helen Obiri is — moderate pace for most of the marathon then unleashing a 4:40 mile near the end.. Then I mentioned an edited version of my birding poem that I’m planning to submit to some journals.

Right before descending below lake street, we encountered another, older runner. I said that I liked his orange shirt and then asked Scott if the shirt was actually orange. It was a gradient, Scott replied. It started orange then magenta then red — at least I think that was the order of colors. Well, I just heard ORANGE in my head, I said. Then: orange shirt
old guy
struggling

Scott pointed out that it was in my running rhythm — 3/2, with an extra 3. Nice.

Random Thoughts Recorded Earlier Today on a version of the wind: air

from Living Here/ Cleopatra Mathis

In the world of appearances, teach me
to believe in the unseen.

from long entry dated 16 august 2022

Of course, appearances refers to more than vision or looking; it’s about “the world of sensible phenomena” (Merriam-Webster). And, to be seen or unseen, can mean much more than what we perceive with our eyes. But how often is appearance/seen reduced to vision and sight? (rhetorical question — my answer: too often or all the time or most of the time).

To appear can mean to be present, to attend, to show up for something.

To believe in the unseen — believing in that which we can’t prove? Believing in something that I know is there but that I cannot see? An orange buoy?
What does it mean to be unseen? To not be seen with our eyes? To not be consciously aware of what some part of us might be seeing or sensing?

belief trust faith confidence acceptance conviction

Mostly, we can sense the wind, or at least see the evidence of it all around us — swaying trees, swirling leaves, flapping flags. But what about air? Air, which we often mis-identify as emptiness?

april 13/RUN

10k
hidden falls and back
66 degrees
wind: 13 mph / gusts: 25 mph

Another run with Scott. Today, too hot! We ran around 11, which was too late. So much sun and no shade. It’s time to adjust to running much earlier.

Of course, I’m writing this right after the run, when I’m feeling wiped out, so my perspective on it is skewed.

We talked about the Beaufort scale and songs that might fit with the different levels of wind. Scott recounted the history of the man behind Chef Boyardee. That’s all I remember.

10 Things

  1. wind — strong enough that I took my hat off on the ford bridge and held it so it wouldn’t blow off my head
  2. ripples on the river — I mentioned to Scott that they were referred to as scales on the Beaufort scale
  3. wind chimes, all around the neighborhood chiming
  4. soft shadows
  5. after months of not being lit, the street lamps along the river road are finally lit again
  6. on your left! a biker passing us on the bridge
  7. the water fountains aren’t working yet — we kept stopping to check, but no water yet
  8. a few LOUD blue jays
  9. swarming gnats!
  10. bright yellow and orange and green running shirts on other runners

before the run

Reviewing a link I posted earlier this month — Historical and Contemporary Versions of the Beaufort Scale — I started thinking about different versions of the Beaufort Scale that I could do. On the run, I’d like to talk with Scott about a wind song Beaufort scale that describe/ranks the wind using song lyrics. I’m thinking that Summer Breeze might be on one end and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on the other.

Other versions of the Beaufort Scale might include poetry lines — yes, a wind cento! — and things experienced while running.

Beaufort Scale

force / name / for use at sea / for use at land

  • 0 / calm, still / sea like a mirror / smoke rises vertically
  • 1 / light air / ripples on water / direction of wind shown by wind
  • 2 / light breeze / small wavelets / wind felt on face, leaves rustle
  • 3 / gentle breeze / crests begin to break, scattered white horses / leaves and small twigs whirl, wind extends small flags
  • 4 / moderate breeze / small waves, fairly frequent white horses / wind raises dust and loose paper, small branches move
  • 5 / fresh breeze / moderate waves, many white horses, some spray / small trees in leaf start to sway, crested waves on inland waters
  • 6 / strong breeze / large waves, white foam, spray / large branches in motion, whistling wires, umbrellas used with difficulty
  • 7 / near gale / breaking waves blow in streaks / whole trees in motion, inconveniant to walk against the wind
  • 8 / gale / moderately high waves / twigs break from trees, difficult to walk
  • 9 / strong gale / high waves / slight structural damage, roof slates removed
  • 10 / storm / very high waves / trees uprooted, considerable structural damage
  • 11 / violent storm / very high waves / widespread damage
  • 12 / hurricane / air filled with foam, spray / widespread damage

I’m struck by how mild the wind is here in Minneapolis by the river gorge. The roughest wind I’ve run (or swum) in is 6, which is about 31 mph. That’s only a strong breeze and when umbrellas are used with difficulty. And that’s only halfway up the scale! I’m a wimp, I guess.

Looking at this a different way, I think there’s a lot more levels between light breeze and strong breeze. maybe I should try to notice and describe the differences between leaves rustling and leaves in a whirlwind? Or wind felt on my face as a soft kiss versus wind whipping my hair?

during the run

Scott was excited about the idea of creating a Beaufort scale with songs/song lyrics. So far:

0 / In the Still of the Night / Dion
1 / In the Air Tonight / Phil Collins
2 / Summer Breeze / Seals & Croft
3 / Sailing / Christopher Cross
4 / Dust in the Wind / Kansas
5 / Breezin’ / George Benson
6 / Blowing in the Wind / Peter, Paul & Mary
7 / Windy / The Association
8 / They Call the Wind Maria / Paint Your Wagon
9 / Ride Like the Wind / Christopher Cross
10 / Tear the Roof Off the Sucker / Parliment
11 / The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald / Gordon Lightfoot
12 / Rock You Like a Hurricane / Scorpion

This was fun and a great distraction as we ran!

april 11/RUN

3.1 miles
edmund, south/river road, north/edmund, south
56 degrees
wind: 12 mph/ gusts: 22 mph

Shorts and bare legs again today. Hooray! Was planning to do the 2 trails, but when I reached the entrance to the winchell trail I heard some very noisy rustling of leaves. Too big for a squirrel. A dog? A bear? A human? I tried to look ahead but all I saw was a black blob. I thought it was a person with a stroller so I moved a little closer. Nope — a male turkey with its tail spread like a peacock, a red wattle glowing, even for me with my bad color vision. Wow. I mentioned it to a man walking down the hill and he said, well, this is the way I’m going! and slowly and calmly walked toward the turkey. A showdown. After 30 seconds or so, the turkey relented and the man walked past. Not me, I climbed the hill and ran on the trail next to the road. This encounter will be my birding poem for the day!

10 Things Other Than Tom Turkey

  1. a woodpecker cry — pileated, I think
  2. another woodpecker cry a few minutes later — was this bird following me?
  3. loud kids at the playground, mostly having fun
  4. 2 bikers heading north — we can ride the wind now. I thought this meant that they would have the wind at their backs, so I would too, when I turned around. No. Wind was in my face heading north, later in the run
  5. admiring the view of the river from the overlook — the water on the other shore was sparkling
  6. mud and roots on the dirt trail between edmund and the river
  7. the clickity-clack of roller skiers poles behind me
  8. several of the benches had people on them — more than half?
  9. bird shadows
  10. a shrieking blue jay above me

After turning around because of the territorial turkey, I put in my “It’s Windy” playlist: They Call the Wind Maria/ the furies; Dust in the Wind/ insignificant or fleeting

The wind wasn’t overpowering but it was everywhere, coming from every direction. I remember noticing how it played with my hair, making my ponytail bob and my little loose strands fly around my face. Only once did I need to adjust my hat for fear that the wind might blow it off. I don’t remember hearing any skittering leaves or getting dust in my eyes, grit in my teeth. The wind didn’t sing or howl. It did push me forward and hold me back. And I think it made the whole run harder.

Earlier this morning, I checked out Mary Oliver’s West Wind and found this delightful part of a poem about wild turkeys. It seems fitting to include today after seeing several hens — being guarded by the male turkey on Winchell.

from Three Songs/ Mary Oliver

1

A band of wild turkeys is coming down the hill. They are coming
slowly—astheywalkalongthey look under the leaves for things to 
eat, and besides it must be a pleasure to step alternately through the
pale sunlight, then patches of slightly golden shade. they are all hens
and they lift their thick toes delicately. With such toes they could
march up one side of the state and down the others, or skate on water,
or dance the tango. But not this morning. As they get closer the sound
of their feet in the leaves is like the patter of rain, then rapid rain. My
dogs perk their ears, and bound from the path. Instead of opening their
dark wings the hens swirl and rush away under the trees, like little
ostriches.

Returning to my birding poem for the day. I’m having a little difficulty finding the focus, so I thought I’d write a little more around this little poem. What are the details that I remember, that I might want to write about?

  • First thing noticed: an unusually loud rustling sound that I thought was too big for a squirrel, too much for a human
  • the moment of seeing something but not knowing what it was — a bear? a dog? a stroller? Not feeling scared, but feeling like I should stay back until I figured it out, feeling that it was something unusual. This moment last a long time, which was fine because I had time, but wouldn’t have been if I had needed to make a quick decision, like if the turkey was running towards me
  • the turkey was so big! its tail was up and spread out like a peacock, making him look even bigger and framing his face
  • the face — fuzzy but clear enough to know that this turkey was telling me to back off! I couldn’t make out his eyes, but I could see — or, maybe I guessed a little — when he was facing me — yes, it was the contrast of light and dark — when he was turned away, he was just a dark, hulking shape, when he was turned toward me I saw a pale beak
  • the red wattle — was it bright? I can’t quite remember, but I know it was red and big
  • when I felt fairly certain it was a turkey, I still couldn’t see details — just a small, light head with red, framed by broad dark tail feathers — how much of his bigness was because of his tail, how much his body? the form — menacing and comical at the same time, with its big circle for a body and its tiny head
  • the approaching man — I said to him, there’s a big turkey down there! He said something like, well, THIS is the way I’m planning to go! His tone wasn’t too jerky, just matter-of-fact. When he approached the turkey he called out sternly but not too aggressively — hey hey move! At first, the turkey wouldn’t budge and the guy looked back at me, but after some time, the turkey moved

Reflecting on these details some more, I’m thinking that the guy, albeit interesting, is unnecessary for my purposes. I think adding him might take the poem in a different direction. . . although, I am struck by the encounter between me, him, and the turkey. The guy didn’t seem like a jerk, but he did give off some older white guy energy — this is the way I’m going turkey! Your puffed up feathers can’t stop me! I was happy to stand back and observe the turkeys from a (respectful?) distance, while he was ready to keep moving through the turkeys.

The uncertainty from not being able to see what the turkey was is what I’d like to focus on, although I want to weave in the strange mix of menacing and comical too. Here’s a long passage from Georgina Kleege that is helpful in explaining my own process of seeing things. She is able to see most things because she expects to see them; it’s the unexpected things that make it difficult. oh — I like this idea of bringing surprise in here!

Expectation plays a large role in what I perceive. I know what’s on my desk because I put it there. If someone leaves me a surprise gift, it may take a few seconds to identify it, but how often does that happen? . . . . I can recognize most things through quick process of elimination. And that process is only truly conscious on the rare occasions when the unexpected occurs, as when my cats carry objects out of context. A steel wool soap pad appears in the bath tub. I see it as a rusty, graying blob. Though touch would probably tell me something, it can be risky to touch something you cannot identify some other way. . . . I once encountered a rabid raccoon on a sidewalk near my house. I learned what it was from a neighbor watching it from his screened porch. What I saw was an indistinct, grayish mass, low to the ground and rather round. It was too big to be a cat and the wrong shape to be a dog. Its gait was not only unfamiliar but unsteady. It zigzagged up the pavement. I moved my gaze around it as my brain formed a picture of raccoon. The raccoon in my mind had the characteristic mask across its face, a sharply pointed nose, striped tail, brindled fur. Nothing in the hazy blob at my feet, no variations in color or refinements in form, corresponded with that image. Its position was wrong. The raccoon in my image was standing up on its haunches, holding something in its front paws. And what does a rabid raccoon look like?

Sight Unseen/ Georgina Kleege (105-106, print version)

Kleege grew up, from age 11, with a big blind spot in the center of her vision. That was roughly 50+ years ago, so she’s had time to learn how to guess and eliminate and handle identifying unexpected objects. I’m still learning. Mostly, it doesn’t bother me, although i occasionally worry about my safety. Anyway, I find Kleege’s description of her process helpful in enabling me to describe what I did. Kleege saw “an indistinct, grayish mass, low to the ground and rather round.” I saw an indistinct, dark mass, somewhat low to the ground and rather round. My dark mass moved slowly but not awkwardly and was accompanied by a loud racket. I might have guessed turkey earlier if he, and his hens, hadn’t been so loud, and if he hadn’t been so big and round.

How many times have I seen a male turkey with its feathers puffed up? Looking it up, I read that this puffing could be a courtship ritual or a sign of intimidation — in my encounter, was it both? The courtship version involves a strut and a gobble — oh, I wish I would have heard him gobble! The only noises my turkeys made were with their beaks or feet as they rooted around for food. And, maybe his low, un-awkward (graceful?) gait was a strut that I couldn’t quite see?

possible ideas, images, descriptions to add: gobble-less, unexpected and unusual for this regular route, rotund (or round or a puffed up dark dot/circle), rooting racket.

clues to choose from: a dark mass too big for a bird (or so I thought), too small for a bear, a slow strut.

Something to think about: was it just the puffed up feathers that made seeing turkeys strange? I think so.

I almost forgot. I took a picture! Look at me, at a safe distance!

turkey sighting / 11 april 2024

april 10/RUN

5.1 miles
bottom of franklin and back
61 degrees
wind: 8 mph / gusts: 18 mph

Ah, spring! Sun and shorts and short sleeves! Birds — black-capped chickadees, pileated woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, a turkey! I looked at the river but I don’t remember what I saw. Too distracted by blue sky and sharp shadows and the spring breeze — which is less relaxed than a summer breeze, but still pleasant — a word my mom used to say, or did she say it just that once when I was barely four and was talking with her in our new backyard in Hickory, North Carolina as she hung laundry out to dry. It feels pleasant out here or It’s a pleasant day. It’s a terribly bland word, but I love it because I always think of her and that moment.

Encounters:

  • Dave: Hi Sara!
  • while running up a hill, a woman walking down it: Looking good! me: Thank you!
  • two women walking towards me after I finished my run: Well, you look springy!

overheard:

  • from talk radio across the road: Don’t you think I think about it? Don’t you think it keeps me up at night?
  • distorted music coming out of a bike radio

Listened to birds, my breathing, and the smooth wheels of a rollerblader as I ran north. Ran up the franklin hill and sang, Running up that hill, in my head. Put in “It’s Windy” playlist: Let’s Go Fly a Kite: not childish but childlike; Don’t Mess Around with Jim: karma; Ride Like the Wind: haul ass; You’re Only Human (Second Wind) — be generous to yourself; Summer Breeze: relax

my birding moment: running north, listening to Billy Joel, distracted by the song or memories or some thought, something suddenly appeared in front of me — a turkey! It wasn’t too close, but close enough that I was able to watch it awkwardly run across the path. For the poem: distraction, interruption, awkwardness, dragged out of the inner into the outer

Stuck inside
a thought

Unaware
seeing

only bare
path when

Poof! Bobbing
head sleek

body move
past me

faster than
I thought

possible
I watch

then admire
this show

grateful to
be dragged

out into
the world.

a breeze

Before I run, I decided today’s version of the wind would be: breeze.

breeze 1

The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
(from The Work of Happiness/ May Sarton/May Sarton)

breeze 2

definition of breezy: pleasantly wind; airy, nonchalant — as in, breezy indifference

breezy 3

Easy breezy beautiful cover girl
Beautiful skin can be a breeze with sea breeze — or, what my sister Marji used to sing, Beautiful skin can be a breeze with sea grease

breeze 4

Yet again, the ekphrasis appears!

How to Look at Pictures/ Rebecca Morgan Frank

title after Robert Clermont Witt, 1906

Refuse to make eye contact with the subject.
He has been following you around the gallery.
You are certain that he can see down your shirt.
Look at other subjects, but know that they, too,
are not of primary interest. Even when they watch
you. Try not to consider what happened
to the small girl staring furiously, the thin-faced
woman wanly looking away. Do not think about
what they had for breakfast, if the bread was hard.
Certainly do not consider the odors underneath
their arms and skirts. Do not allow a breeze into
the room they sit in. Do not assume I am talking
about any painting: step away from the subject.
All subject. Was the painter in love? Do not ask
the question. Imagine you are the painter,
blocking out everything you don’t want to see.
Everything is out of the picture. Stop looking.
Stop seeking what isn’t there. Tuck your narratives
back in your pocket. Look for perspective, light,
shade. Let your eyes wander back to the girl.
She is trying to say something but her mouth
has been painted deliberately shut. Her lips, thin.

april 8/RUN

10k
the flats and back
48 degrees
wind: 10 mph

Because of the ran yesterday, Scott and I did our long run today. It was wet and dark and so humid that we could see our breaths. First we talked about anxiety — Scott’s was about missing some notes at a rehearsal, mine was about waking up with it, feeling it in cramped feet. Then I described a New Yorker article I was reading before we left about forensic linguistics. My description included misplaced apostrophes, devil strips, and Sha Na Na. Wow. Scott spent the last mile of the run trying to remember the name of the guy who was always on 70s game shows, had curly yellow hair, and shot out confetti — Rip Taylor.

We greeted Dave the Daily Walker — Hi Dave! — and listened to some cool-sounding bird. Heard a seep that had turned into a little waterfall below the U. Smelled the sewer. Watched the river move so slowly that it didn’t look like it was moving. We walked part of the franklin hill then ran the rest.

According to my watch, the wind was 10 mph 18 mph gusts. I don’t remember feeling much wind, or hearing it in the trees, of seeing it move the leaves. In fact, the wind was so calm that the water looked still. Not smooth, but no waves, not even ripples. Am I forgetting?

Here’s a wonderful little poem about wind by A. R. Ammons that I found on a favorite site, Brief Poems:

Small Song/ A. R. Ammons

The reeds give way
to the wind

and give
the wind away

A note about the total eclipse: it didn’t really happen here in Minnesota — it was overcast and we weren’t in the path of the eclipse. Oh well. Here’s a pdf of Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse” which I must have read for a writing class but that I can’t find a copy of in my files.

april 7/RUN

3.3 miles
trestle turn around
41 degrees
wind: 15 mph / 35 mph gusts

More wind. Ran between raindrops and beside a 10 mile race. The wind was at my back running north, in my face south. Those racers were hardcore, running the first 5 miles into that wind — yuck! Puddles and mud and an over-sized green rain jacket puffing up like a balloon about to float away:

Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!

from Ode to the West Wind/ Percy Bysshe Shelley

Listened to the racers, spectators, a drummer drumming, a runner giving a motivational speech as he ran — good job! you can do it! the finish line is almost here! you got this! — which might have been inspirational or insufferable depending on how you felt six miles into a race that started with rain and cold and continued with wind. At the turn around I stopped and put in my wind playlist. Today: Wind it Up — sexual empowerment (I know he thinks you’re fine and stuff, but does he know how to wind you up?). Classical Gas – the 70s, Bohemian Rhapsody – fate, and Don’t Mess Around with Jim – street smarts

After I finished running, as I was walking back, I noticed the flash of a bird fly up from the street to the top of a sign, then 3 or 4 other small birds fly out of the tree and into the air. The small dark dots against the smudged sky looked like static or the stars I see when I’m dizzy or had too much caffeine, or (sorry not sorry to be gross) dropped a big deuce — am I the only one that happens to? I decided that these birds would be the subject of my birding poem for today.

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is

from Ode to the West Wind/ Percy Bysshe Shelley

Yesterday, Scott and I met up with FWA in St. Peter. After taking him shopping for his clarinet recital next week, we went back to campus and took a walk through the Arb. So windy! I didn’t have a hair tie and my hair was swirling around my face as we walked on the uneven dirt trail in the open field. Later, winding through the pine trees we had some shelter. Scott saw the tiniest bird, then I saw it too, first as a flash of movement, then as a small dark form on a low limb. FWA guessed that it was a warbler, which it probably was. We listened for birds and heard a creak: one tree rubbing against another — Shelley’s forest lyre! I told Scott and FWA that I knew a beautiful poem that I wish I had memorized for this occasion — Cello by Dorianne Laux

april 6/WALK

1 mile with Delia
neighborhood
40 degrees

A second day of taking Delia for a walk in the morning, and what a morning! Not warm, but sunny and calm. Birds, a slight breeze, blue sky. Did a lot of deep breaths as I walked. This morning, I was anxious, but I recognized it as a phase that I could endure, and that recognition helped. Slowly I’m getting a little better at navigating perimenopause.

Wind in Leaves or, Leaves in Wind

This entire poem by Donika Kelly is great and I want to return to it, but for now, I’ll just post the opening and its description of wind in leaves through the seasons. Such a fun way to think about wind — how it sounds in leaves in spring or summer or fall.

from When the Fact of Your Gaze Means Nothing, Then You Are Alongside/ Donika Kelly

late spring wind sounds an ocean 
through new leaves. later the same 
wind sounds a tide. later still the dry 

sound of applause: leaves chapped 
falling, an ending. this is a process.

What does it mean that the wind sounds an ocean, and how does that differ from that wind sounding a tide?

Thinking about leaves and wind I’m remembering a line from “Dear One Absent this Long While” by Lisa Olstein:

I expect you. I thought one night it was you
at the base of the drive, you at the foot of the stairs,
you in a shiver of light, but each time
leaves in wind revealed themselves

How do I describe the leaves in wind? Something to think about on my run.

april 5/RUN

3.1 miles
trestle turn around
54 degrees
wind: 5 mph

What a day! Took Delia out for a walk this morning. An hour later, sat on the deck and was inspired by the birds to write a beautiful little poem conjuring my mom. Then, around 12:30, went for a run by the gorge. Okay spring! The run wasn’t easy, but wasn’t hard either. My legs are sore from running every day since Tuesday. Tomorrow I’ll take a break.

Listened to birds running north, my “It’s Windy” playlist on the way back south. Wind songs heard today: “Ride Like the Wind” — fast? frantic? under pressure? and “You’re Only Human (Second Wind); — forgiving and resilient and a reprieve

I’m sure I looked at the river, but I don’t remember doing it, or what it looked like. I do remember that the floodplain forest looked open and brown and full of trees that had been through a flood or two. No roller skiers or rowers. No radios or impatient cars. Did hear a few unpleasant goose honks near the lake street bridge.

Beaufort Scale

The History of the Beaufort Scale

Before the run I reviewed the Beaufort Scale and rediscovered a Beaufort Scale poem by Alice Oswald. Gave myself the task of trying to describe the wind today:

running north: make your own wind — or breeze?
south: hair raising . . . leg hair raising . . . calf hair raising
east: no need to shield the microphone; a welcomed air-conditioning after a hard effort; still leaves still; the branches moving so slightly my cone-dead eyes cannot detect their movement — no trees waving to me today . . . rude; flag flapping but no wind chiming

Alice Oswald on wind:

Everything you write about the wind really has to be about something else, because the wind itself is so non-existent. I like the way the Beaufort Scale [a system used to estimate wind speed based on observation of its effects] categorizes something so abstract and undefinable. That is partly what drew me to the project. I regard the words as secondary to the silences in my poetry, so I’m drawn to write about things that will exist without the words. The poems are full of gaps and silences through which something that isn’t linguistic can be heard.

A Poem A Day

wind will exist without the words

Beaufort Poem Scale – Alice Oswald

As I speak (force 1) smoke rises vertically,
Plumed seeds fall in less than ten seconds
And gossamer, perhaps shaken from the soul’s hairbrush
Is seen in the air.

Oh yes (force 2) it’s lovely here,
One or two spiders take off
And there are willow seeds in clouds

But I keep feeling (force 3) a scintillation,
As if a southerly light breeze
Was blowing the tips of my thoughts
(force 4) and making my tongue taste strongly of italics

And when I pause it feels different
As if something had entered (force 5) whose hand is lifting my page

(force 6) So I want to tell you how a whole tree sways to the left
But even as I say so (force 7) a persistent howl is blowing my hair horizontal
And even as I speak (force 8) this speaking becomes difficult

And now my voice (force 9) like an umbrella shaken inside out
No longer shelters me from the fact (force 10)
There is suddenly a winged thing in the house,
Is it the wind?

april 4/RUN

4.25 miles
minnehaha falls and back
45 degrees
wind: 12 mph / 21 mph gusts

I thought it was supposed to be less windy today, but it didn’t feel like it. Heading north, I was running straight into the wind. Sometimes it felt fine, and sometimes it felt hard. Listened to birds, especially black capped chickadees but also the faint knocking of a woodpecker somewhere near a house being built. Admired some gnarled shadows from the oak trees I passed by in the park. Heard rushing water at the falls and the recorded ding of the light rail across the highway. Managed to step in almost every pothole without twisting or rolling anything. Remembered to look at the river and notice how it sparkled in the sun.

Listened to the birds and the wind and the water as I ran south. Listened to my new “It’s Windy” playlist, and a LOUD kid on the playground, as I ran north.

wind!

A lot pf wind outside today, and more inside, at my desk (and no, I don’t been gas). Started with a playlist:

It’s Windy

  1. Windy/ The Association
  2. Summer Breeze/ Seals & Crofts
  3. I Talk to the Wind/ King Crimson
  4. Dust in the Wind/ Kansas
  5. The Wind Cries Mary/ The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  6. Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow/ Frank Zappa
  7. Summer Wind/ Frank Sinatra
  8. Wind of Change/ Scorpions
  9. Blowin’ In the Wind/ Peter, Paul & Mary
  10. In the Air Tonight/ Phil Collins
  11. The Chain/ Fleetwood Mac
  12. Ride Like the Wind/ Christopher Cross
  13. Wind Beneath My Winds/ Better Midler
  14. Break Like the Wind/ Spinal Tap
  15. Listening Wind/ Talking Heads
  16. You’re Only Human (Second Wind)/ Billy Joel
  17. Wind Chimes/ The Beach Boys
  18. The Long and Winding Road/ The Beatles
  19. They Call the Wind Maria/ Paint Your Wagon
  20. The Zephyr Song/ Red Hot Chili Peppers
  21. Wind It Up/ Gwen Stefani
  22. Shining Star/ Gwen Stefani
  23. Shining Star/ Earth, Wind & Fire
  24. Runnin’/ Earth, Wind & Fire
  25. Classical Gas/ Mason Williams
  26. Bohemian Rhapsody/ Queen
  27. You Don’t Mess Around with Jim/ Jim Croce

Here are the songs that I listened to today as I ran:

Windy/ The Association
Summer Breeze/ Seals & Croft
I Talk to the Wind/ King Crimson
Wind of Change/ Scorpion
Blowin’ In the Wind/ Peter, Paul & Mary*

*I started with the Bob Dylan version but when he busted out the harmonica I had to switch to the version I remember when I was kid

Somewhere between Summer Breeze and Wind of Change I thought about what words I might associate with these songs: Windy – capricious; Summer Breeze – carefree; I Talk to the Wind – indifferent; Wind of Change – hope; Blowin’ In the Wind – possibility

Listening to Blowin’ In the Wind, I thought about all of the questions posed in it and was reminded of a line I recited earlier this morning from Rita Dove: Someone once said: There are no answers/just interesting questions. I thought about the idea of questions being spoken into the wind and how there are no certain answers to them but that doesn’t mean they’re just rhetorical. Oh — now I’m thinking about the unanswerable questions and the koan.

other things noticed: the word straight was used several times — In I Talk to the Wind: said the straight man to the late man and Wind of Change: The wind of change blows straight into the face of time. In Windy, the wind is tripping down the street. I wonder if the swirls or whirls in any of my songs?

first definitions of wind from the OED: Air in motion; a state of movement in the air; a current of air, of any degree of force perceptible to the senses, occurring naturally in the atmosphere, usually parallel to the surface of the ground.

  • with specific reference to direction from which it blows
  • in reference to navigation, as means of propulsion
  • to take, have, get, gain the wind of, to scent or detect by or as by the wind
  • As a thing devoid of sense or perception, or that is unaffected by what one does to it — talk to the wind, spit into the wind
  • a type of violence, a fury: swiftness, freedom or unrestrainable character, mutability or fickleness, lightness or emptiness — the furies? fates and furies?
  • air in general, as a substance or element
  • gas
  • air inhaled and exhaled by the lungs
  • air as used for blowing or sounding an instrument

So many directions in which to go!

Revisiting a poem from a past entry:

Project/ A. R. Ammons

My subject’s
still the wind still
difficult to
present
being invisible:
nevertheless should I
presume it not
I’d be compelled
to say
how the honeysuckle bushlimbs
wave themselves:
difficult
beyond presumption.

As I wrote about on this log before, wind is a great counter to the claim, what you see is what you get or seeing is believing.

wind thoughts

Early on in this log I was obsessed with the wind, particularly in terms of my run. How much wind was there outside? Would I have to run into it? I disliked running into the wind; it made it so much harder and I needed it to be as easy as it could be. At some point, I’m not sure when (maybe I’ll try to find it?), I stopped caring so much about how windy it was. It’s never really that windy in Minneapolis, not like St. Peter or Rochester. High winds freak me out.

I’d like to search back through my archive, but I have a problem: I mention the wind a lot, over 700 times. I often record the wind speed, or make a brief reference to it in the first lines of the entry like, it was windy today or so windy! Is this an impossible task, to read through and tag all of these entries? Perhaps. I think I might just start looking through entries and see what happens. . . . A few entries in and I’m already remembering some thoughts about and experiences of the wind:

  • shaking the leaves in the trees
  • sounding like sizzling bacon
  • unnoticed, forgotten at my back, but when I turn around I remember!
  • trying to rip my hat from my head — it’s only happened once!
  • making the tassel on my hat tap me on the shoulder, making me think of my mom
  • rushing past my ears, almost forgotten when I have my ears covered
  • making waves on the water, making the river sparkle
  • in the lake, making the waves so choppy — the past few summers it’s been windier
  • summer breeze — on a playlist

two more random wind thought that just popped into my head:

  1. FWA and his love of the Zelda video game, Wind-waker
  2. FWA telling me one day when he was 8 or 9: I hate the wind. When I grow up I want to invent a device that gets rid of the wind

Walking back to the house after my run, I thought about how fun it is to explore an image like wind and how helpful it is to give so much attention to it and to be open to so many possibilities. Future Sara will appreciate all of the wind options I’m giving here, I think.

april 3/RUN

3.15 miles
2 trails
41 degrees
wind gusts: 35 mph

Windy! Overcast. Quiet. A good run. Slow and relaxed until I reached a runner ahead of me with a dog who stopped then started then stopped again. At this point, I passed them and picked up the pace, hoping to avoid any more encounters. It worked! I felt good enough to keep running faster and faster. Fun!

Listened to the wind and some yelling in the gorge running south and on the winchell trail. Put in my winter playlist for the last mile, heading north on the trail.

10+ Things

  1. wind 1: soft, gentle, haunting wind chimes
  2. wind 2: a small branch of a pine tree with some green needles on the sidewalk
  3. wind 3: a swishing ponytail
  4. an empty playground, or a quiet playground
  5. nearing the Cleveland overlook: the memory of the very LOUD knocking of a woodpecker
  6. an open view of the river — can’t remember what the river looked like, just that it was wide and open
  7. mud on the trail
  8. empty benches
  9. the strong smell of weed in the 36th street parking lot
  10. wind 4: leaves scratching the street
  11. wind 5: a white plastic bag rolling across the street, then stopping in the middle, once side being lifted up
  12. wind 6: a waving bush

before the run

The difference between a sunset and a sun set/ting.

or, the moment or the space that exists between a sun set/ting and a sunset. Ever since I read James Schuyler’s “Hymn to Life” and misread a sunset for a sun set, I’ve been thinking about the difference between them — one is a object (sunset), the others an action (sun set) or a process (sun setting). The difference between something fixed and something happening, moving, doing. Why does a sun set/ting appeal to me more? One obvious reason: understanding the sun as a subject, the natural world as an actor. Another reason: movement. A sunset is a fixed image, a sun set/ting moves. Poetry is about movement — associations between ideas, the flow of words and rhythms, the refusal to land (stand still) on one meaning or ending for too long or at all. My life is about movement — restlessness; the practice of running and writing; a difficulty in ever seeing objects as fixed, always slightly fuzzy, buzzing like static, not flickering but bouncing or shaking (or something like that). (quick thought: I’m drawn to light, but just as much to motion. How true is that for people with all of their cone cells?)

note: writing about this sparked new ideas, including a tentative focus for April, and some thoughts for a artist statement — more on that below.

Since last month, I’ve been playing around with a poem that attempts to describe the differences between a sunset and a sun set/ting. It’s slow-going. Here’s something to add to my already swirling, meandering thoughts: it’s a poem by Nikky Finney from Ross Gay’s discussion of her work in his talk, Be Camera, Black-Eyed Aperture. It’s not about a sun set/ting, but one rising. The italics are Gay’s; I’m keeping them because they’re helpful for seeing the connections to the movement of a sun set/ting:

The Squatting Sun/ Nikky Finney

6:38, flying east, I witness birth,
pushing out of the blushing vaginal rim

like some wide cherry-dropped child.
All the colors that make red have come

to the only straight line on the earth.
Ghostly, I blink, my eyes tweak her nipples,

she releases and the head does not wait
for my awe.

I thought I knew what red looked like.
Believed I had seen this daily drama before;

the earth in morning-mother motion,
the first bowl of earth-bread sipped,

but never had I been asked
inside the sun’s womb so deep.

What I see has so much to do
With the permission to look
.

My egg-white eyes labor to midwife
this moment out all the way.

The baby day pushes clean,
a quarter rim of cherry-spilled earth

lands in a head-back wail
inside my ladling pupils,

the first rising brightness, its long
equatorial head bursts, then crests;

new life passed on
to a pan of waiting salted water.

Some thoughts on the poem by Ross Gay:

. . .this poem witnesses the quiet interior horizon of experience, during which the unfathomably beautiful emerges, and is the contemplation of it. As Finney says, “I thought I knew what red looked like, / believed I had seen this daily drama.” Indeed, it’s the quiet looking that brings the sunrise, the day, wailing into the speaker’s eyes. 

Be Camera, Black-Eyed Aperture/ Ross Gay

Gay’s mention of quiet looking here is about black interiority and comes from Kevin Quashie’s The Sovereignty of Quiet. I’m thinking about the quiet looking as the labor it takes to see something — the process from light to cell to signal, from retina to optic nerve to brain, from being distracted to quieting to noticing. Usually, this labor is invisible; we believe we just see things, they are just there for our camera eye or eye-as-camera to see.

Whew — that’s a lot to think about and to try to make sense of. Anyway, back to what this sunset and sun set/ting thread inspired. An April challenge: wind! And, some thoughts for an artistic statement:

To describe the world (primarily in poetry) from the perspective of the peripheral and from where some central vision exists but is not/no longer centered. . . . new ways of writing about noticing the world that don’t center central vision or that rely on but don’t center peripheral vision (because peripheral vision, by virtue of how it works, can never be centered in the same way that central vision was/is). . . . a few images I’m currently obsessed with: birds, wind, the idea of the Form, not as Platonic but as vague, basic, lacking the specificity of focus — Tree Bird Cloud. 

after the run

After I finished the run, I took out my phone and recorded some thoughts, including:

Somewhat similar to sunset vs. sun set/ting: windblown vs. wind blowing
windblown = evidence that wind existed, witnessed, after the fact
wind blowing = moving through a seemingly invisible force that is happening right now

another example: the absence of birdsong — very quiet, which could have been caused by the birds not singing in the wind, but also by the wind carrying the sound elsewhere

birding: thought about the memory of the woodpecker’s knock near the overlook

i.

an echo
almost

memory
of dead

wood hit hard
somewhere

across the
ravine

ii.

Quiet. Not
absence

of singing
birds but

the presence
of wind

carrying
their notes OR their tune

somewhere else.

A good start. I don’t think I should use somewhere for both.

wind!

So many possibilities for this monthly challenge!

  1. Gathering all of the wind poems I’ve already collected.
  2. A wind playlist.
  3. Tagging related entries with “wind”.
  4. Reading The Wind in the Willows, which I was reminded of by Mary Ruefle when she described it as one of her favorite book on a podcast.
  5. Exploring the idea of wind as both a noun for a weather condition and a verb for wrapping something around something else — a scarf around a neck — or for traversing a curving course.
  6. Returning to the Beaufort Scale

april 2/RUN

5.2 miles
ford loop
38 degrees
snow flurries into rain drops

Woke up this morning to snow. What? A little stuck on the deck but nowhere else. Sometime during the run it turned into rain. Or, was that sweat? I think it was rain.

A good run. Right before I left the house, I had a little calf pain — a few flares of dull pain. Why? Not sure, but I decided it would be fine. In fact, it might help to go out and move. It was and it did. Whenever my calf grumbled, which it didn’t do very often, I sang the song, “Old Friends” from Merrily We Roll Along in my head. Hey old friend/ are you okay old friend? I’m trying to shift my perspective and remember to think about my body, pain, worry as old friends.

Before the run, I was adding some things to my “How to be” project on Undisciplined about not looking away:

An occasional poem by Danni Quintos:

Once I wrote a poem on a bridge
because you told me to find my ghosts.
I remembered you once said, Our job as poets
is to not look away. I looked & wrote
the scariest thing I could think & after
you read it, you gave me a book
(to borrow) which I hugged so hard
that the million synonyms inside
could hear my heart beating.

This looking, described above by Finney and Quintos, this black-eyed opening—this not looking away—is a poetics, yes, but as any poetics is, it is also an ethics. What we look at, what we see, and how, and if we say what we see, is an ethics.

Be Camera, Black-Eyed Aperture / Ross Gay

Unable to see faces, often staring into a void or a smudge or a darkness, it is hard to see, difficult to not look away. How do I reimagine this ethical beholding in ways that I can practice? What might not looking away mean without the looking? Not turning away? 

This is a problem of language, and more than a problem of language, I think. 

Behold is to eyes as ___ is to ears?
An ear-witness?

While I was running, I wanted to think about how I could reframe this not looking away. What does being present, noticing, witnessing mean for me? A thought popped into my head: be with the bird. To be with the bird — to notice them, not try to identify or know or classify them. Ever since I heard J Drew Lanham discuss this concept with Krista Tippett, I’ve loved it. Today I tried to be with the birds. Mostly I was, except for when my calf flared or when I smelled burnt toast —

The other day, I told my son that it smelled like coffee or burnt toast outside. He asked jokingly, are you having a stroke? Maybe I’ve heard this before and had forgotten, but the smell of burnt toast is, according to Scott and FWA, the sign of a stroke. . . . Just looked it up, and there’s no evidence to support that claim. Whew. Anyway, it is irritating and ridiculous and embarrassing to admit that I did contemplate whether or not I might be having a stroke as I smelled the burnt smell. Fairly quickly I concluded: no fucking way. It’s just smoke from somewhere.

Be with the Bird, 10 Things

  1. the soft, sharp knocking on wood somewhere
  2. a flicker from a tree branch, flight, then a shower on my head, then birdsong
  3. an eagle-less tree by the bridge
  4. tweet tweet tweet
  5. chirp chirp
  6. fee bee
  7. a thought: could it be what I’m hearing is not birdsong, but bird warning calls alerting others to my presence?
  8. birds singing in the far off trees
  9. birds calling in the bushes beside me
  10. another thought: do birds like the rain?

a few poetry inspirations

1 — my weather description: snow flurries into rain drops. This transformation of states reminded me of a poem I read in an entry of april 2, 2020:

Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry/ Howard Nemerov – 1920-1991

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned to pieces of snow 
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

Of course today, the water went the opposite way, snow to rain. So poetry to prose?

2 — to rain, raining. As I ran beside the gorge, I frequently heard water falling below me. The snow/rain was creating waterfalls on the limestone and through the sewer pipes, making it sound like it was raining. Suddenly I thought: there’s no rain, but it’s raining, which reminded me of a poem I posted a few days ago:

an excerpt from Raining, Outlined/ Margarita Pintado Burgos

Translated from the Spanish by Alejandra Quintana Arocho

The forest. To say the forest. To suggest some music.
To carve the breeze.
To see a landscape. See it raining. Without rain but with raining.

march 31/RUN

5.5 miles
marshall loop, variation
38 degrees

Back to the running-with-Scott-on-the-weekend tradition. Today a variation of the marshall loop that we probably won’t try again. Over the lake street bridge, up the marshall hill, right at cleveland past St. Thomas and Summit, right on St. Clair, then down to the east river road. St. Clair was mostly a long downhill which sounds nice but was a little too steep.

For the first mile, we talked about the differences between Big Bang (which we don’t like) and Community (which we do). My theory: many of the differences are about the shows relationship to what it means to be normal.

The river looked so cool today — brown, mostly calm but with slight ripples. A bright circle of light and wavy texture — the sun and clouds reflected on the water.

The river was calm enough to see the bridge’s upside down smile reflected on its surface.

Heard the St. Thomas bells, some birds, a squeaking squirrel. The trails weren’t crowded because today is Easter.

added a few hours later: before and after the run (also after dropping FWA back off at college), I worked on my latest birding poem. Will I try to get these published? Maybe, but I’m more interested in them as the opportunity to work on how to turn my daily observations, mostly using peripheral vision and/or senses other than sight, of birds into poems. Something was missing in my poem from yesterday, so I thought about it some more this morning. Yesterday, I kept thinking about how the birds’ singing didn’t hesitate at all as the plane flew above them. This morning I suddenly thought: what if their song was the response to plane — a warning song? I looked up birds and their reactions to planes and found this article, with a line that conjured an image for me.

the line:

Using modern electronic instruments, it is possible to measure the heart rate of brooding birds. Measurements show that these birds often react to the appearance of airplanes with a marked increase in heart rate, in other words they become nervous, even if no outward reaction is visible.

the image: tiny heart beats beating out a rhythm underneath the trill and buzz tune.

A plane’s buzz
mixed with

frantic trills
in trees.

Underneath
this tune

tiny hearts
beat in

a rapid
rhythm

ancient and 
modern. 

march 30/RUN

4 miles
river road, north/south
36 degrees

Hello spring! Much of the snow has melted and the sun was out. There were rowers on the river — not seen, but heard. Passed so many happy runners — Hi! Good Morning! Heard lots of birds. Felt strong and happy and free, able to forgot about the bad mood I woke up with. No calf pain today, hooray!

Listened to the birds running north, my winter playlist running south.

10 Things

  1. the river, sparking and burning a bright white
  2. only a few clumps of snow on the trail
  3. a squirrel that I first thought was a dark tuft of grass — or maybe a ripped up bit of weed blocker, which makes no sense because this was above the gorge, not near someone’s lawn
  4. the coxswain’s voice, calling out instructions
  5. a group of women running, talking about tempos and repeats
  6. the floodplain forest — open, bare, a white floor
  7. voices on the old stone steps
  8. bright blue sky
  9. stopped at the trestle — someone moving just below
  10. at the very beginning, birds calling out — can’t remember how they sounded, just that I felt like they were telling me to have a good run

Walking back, heard more birds. Stopped to record them just as a plane roared above — a duet? Watched the silvery white plane, its nose up, cutting through the blue sky. Listened to the recording. Not a duet, more like layers of sound, disconnected, no noticing of each other. The birds kept on singing their song, the plane buzzing its buzz.

noisy trills
in trees

the buzzing
of a

plane — neither
seem to

notice the
other

I see a
silver

nose rising
but no

small throats . . . ?

Not quite finished with this little birding poem. I’ll try to come back to it later today.

Raining, Outlined/ Margarita Pintado Burgos

Translated from the Spanish by Alejandra Quintana Arocho

The forest. To say the forest. To suggest some music.
To carve the breeze.
To see a landscape. See it raining. Without rain but with raining.
With that raining that I always conjure when slowly, softly,
filled to the brim with tiny traces of an air that’s weightless,
I say to myself I’ll see it rain. I say it again, beside the window,
that it’s going to rain. That I’m going to see it rain.

To put forth the idea of rain before. The downpour plants
all its doubts.

To pour oneself on the raining. Allow oneself to rain.

To see raining. To say I see it’s raining.
Until the raining.
Until the rain.
Until then.
Until.

I love this poem and idea of rain/to rain versus raining.

I’m thinking about the connection between a rich green or heavy gray and the word, raining, appearing in my head — maybe, it’s about to be raining? I’m also thinking about my interest in the difference between the sun setting (raining) and a sunset (rain).

To see a landscape. See it raining. Without rain but with raining.
This line makes me think of looking off in the distance and seeing it raining, or have Scott tell me its raining — and not having rain where we are. Raining without rain.

march 28/RUN

4.15 miles
minnehaha falls and back
28 degrees

Back outside! There were a few patches of ice and some of the walking trails were covered in snow, but the rest was clear and dry. So bright, not just the sun but the sun reflecting off of the snow. My calf continues to make noise — mostly gentle whispers or soft, short groans. Today I didn’t wear the calf sleeves during my run. Maybe I should next time.

Did my usual thing: ran south listening to the world, north to music — Winter 2024

Heard lots of chirping and tweeting birds. Sharp squirrel claws on rough bark. A noise that I thought was a bird or a drill but decided was a dog that wouldn’t shut up — bark bark bark bark bark bark

The favorite shadow I (thought I) saw: approaching a tree, I suddenly saw a shadow moving up the trunk, then realized it was actually a squirrel climbing up the tree.

birding:

Right after my lower calf near the ankle — or was it a tendon? — tightened a little and I was worried, I saw the shadow of a small bird flying over the snow, almost like it was saying, don’t worry; notice me instead.

tweeting birds. I heard: TWEET tweet tweet tweet tweet — Walking back, this tweeting mixed with water dripping from a gutter, a squirrel’s nails scratching tree bark, a kid across the street squealing with delight.

One mixed with
many

the drips and
squeals and

scratching feet
and the

Tweet tweet tweet
tweet tweet

That’s the version I spoke into my phone. I’ll work on it some more.

before the run

one

Red Shoulder Hawk by Ciona Rouse was the poem of the day on poets.org. Instead of just posting the poem, as I usually do, I

We met in the middle of the street only to discuss 
the Buteo lineatus, but we simply said hawk 
because we knew nothing of Latin. We knew nothing 
of red in the shoulder, of true hawks versus buzzards, 
or what time they started their mornings, 
what type of snake they stooped low 
and swift to eat. We knew nothing.

I like how we meet in the middle sounds. The discussion of not knowing the latin name of the bird reminds me of J Drew Lanham and his interview with Krista Tippet — you don’t have to know the name, just be with the bird. It also makes me think of Robin Wall Kimmerer and how she navigates her scientific and indigenous ways of knowing, how she values the Latin names but also the names beings call themselves. And it makes me think of May Swenson and section 7 of her wonderful poem, “October,” which is part of my My 100 list of memorized poems: His shoulder patch/which should be red looks gray. I like how this first sentence unspools.

Or, I should say, at least I knew nothing, 
and he said nothing of what he knew that day 
except one thing he said he thought, but now I say 
he knew: I’m going to die soon, my neighbor said to me 
and assured he had no diagnosis, just a thought. He said it 
just two weeks before he died outdoors just 
twenty steps away from where we stood that day— 
he and I between the porch I returned to and twisted 
the key to my door to cross the threshold into my familiar 
like always I do and the garage he returned to 
and twisted some wrench probably on a knob of the 
El Camino like always he did every day when usually 
I’d wave briefly en route from carport to door 
sometimes saying “how’s it going,” expecting 
only the “fine” I had time to digest.
 

I knew nothing, and he said nothing of what he knew. Is this a chiasmus, where the order of the words is reversed for dramatic effect (I wrote about this device on 13 nov 2023)? Again, the unspooling of the story is wonderful: how the neighbor’s death is revealed, the details that help us to imagine the scene. There is punctuation in these lines, but there are also a lot of lines that are written in a way that make sense without punctuation. I’m reminded of June Jordan’s rules for critiquing other people’s poems:

Punctuation (Punctuation is not word choice. Poems fly or falter according to the words composing them. Therefore, omit punctuation and concentrate on every single word. E.g., if you think you need a question mark then you need to rewrite so that your syntax makes clear the interrogative nature of your thoughts. And as for commas and dashes and dots? Leave them out!)

June Jordan

I don’t know if I completely agree with her, and I know Emily Dickinson wouldn’t, but I do like the idea of trying to focus on each word and trying to have them work without punctuation.

I think I like, to cross the threshold into my familiar like always I do. Do I? I like the use of threshold into my familiar instead of home, but is it too wordy, and awkward with the like always I do?

Except today 
when I stepped out of my car, he waved me over to see 
what I now know to call the Buteo. When first I read its 
Latin name, I pronounced it boo-TAY-oh 
before learning it’s more like saying beauty (oh!).
 
I can’t believe I booed when it’s always carrying awe.

Booed instead of awed? Love it.

Like on this day, the buzzard—red-shouldered and 
usually nesting in the white pine—cast a shadow 
upon my lawn just as I parked, and stared back at us— 
my mesmerized neighbor and me—perched, probably hunting, 
in the leaning eastern hemlock in my yard. Though 
back then I think I only called it a tree because I knew nothing 
about distinguishing evergreens because I don’t think I ever asked 
or wondered or searched yet. I knew nothing about how they thrive 
in the understory. Their cones, tiny. And when they think 
they’re dying, they make more cones than ever before. 

A bird casting a shadow — a favorite of mine. The way time works in this poem is interesting. I didn’t know yet. How far in the future is the narrator telling their story? How long after the neighbor’s death did they begin learning trees? note: I keep wanting to refer to the narrator as he — why? I can’t distinguish evergreens and I’m constantly calling pine trees fir trees and all evergreens fir. Will I ever learn? Something in my brain resists this sort of specificity, and not just because of my bad vision. A line from Diane Seuss in “I look up from my book and look out at the world through reading glasses: All trees are just trees/ death to modifiers

How did he 
know? Who did he ask and what did he search to find 
the date that he might die, and how did he know 
to say soon to me and only me and then, right there 
in that garage with his wrench and the some other parts 
unknown for the El Camino and the radio loud as always 
it was, stoop down, his pledge hand anxious against his chest,
and never rise again?
 

I’m always fascinated by how people know certain things, like, how did Truman in The Truman Show know that something wasn’t right? What enabled him to trust that knowing and not discount it? Or, another perspective: how do our wandering brains lead us to knowing? I like tracing the strange circuits I take to arrive at ideas.

There are many details in this poem, but also many details left out. What kind of loud music is coming out of the radio?

And now the hemlock, which also goes 
by 
Tsuga canadensis, which is part Latin, part Japanese, 
still leans, still looks like it might fall any day now, weighed 
down by its ever-increasing tiny fists. And the 
Buteo returns 
each winter to reclaim the white pine before spring.

The passing of time, vague: now, still, returns each winter

Most hawks die by accident—collision, predation, disease. 
But when it survives long enough to know it’s dying, it may 
find a familiar tree and let its breath weaken in a dark cranny.

to know it’s dying — Back to Swenson’s “October”: this old redwing has decided to/ stay, this year, not join the/ strenuous migration. Better here,/ in the familiar, to fade.

And my neighbor’s wife and I now meet in the middle, 
sometimes even discussing birds but never discussing 
that day. And I brought her roses on that first anniversary 
without him because we sometimes discuss a little more 
than birds. And the 
Buteo often soar in twos, sometimes solo. 
So high I cannot see their shoulders, but I know their voices 
now and can name them even when I don’t see them. No matter 
how high they fly, they see me, though I don’t concern them. 
They watch a cottonmouth, slender and sliding 
silent in tall grass.
 

Birding by ear, the indifference of nature. Another line, this one from Frederic Gros: You are nothing to the trees. To me, this is a good thing.

And the cardinals don’t sing. 
They don’t go mute, either. They tink. 
Close to their nests and in their favorite trees, they know 
when the hawk looms. And their voices turn 
metallic: tink, tink, tink.

A metallic tink as warning call? I’ll have to listen for that. I like how the poem ends with the robins and the narrator-as-transformed-through-curiosity. The narrator has been changed by their neighbor’s death, they have learned to notice and to listen. As I write this, I realize that these last few lines are all about listening and not looking. Very cool!

two

I keep returning to the ekphrastic poem, or ideas close-by/near-enough to the ekphrastic. Thinking about made things and things being made and makers and the world somewhere between wild (as “untouched”?) and civilized (culture/made). Landscapes as not just there, but the living beings/systems, crafted through various “hands” — three in particular: the brain and its way of filtering and guessing and shaping visual data into something I can see; the Minneapolis Parks Department (and maybe other actors in and of the city, too: Army Corps, with its locks and dam and timber and flour industries) and how they’ve managed the land and created the paths I run on, the views I admire — and also created illusions of the “wild”; and water — the river, seeps, springs, drips down to limestone ledge, all carving out and slicing through rock, making: a gorge, rubbled asphalt, cracks, rust, waterfalls.

With all of this I wonder, What is Art? Who is/can be an artist? What is the difference between art and the everyday? There are too many things I could read about how other artists/poets have approached this — that would be the work of past Academic-Sara. And maybe I don’t want to answer these questions, just pose them through my juxtapositions? Or, maybe I should try to stop asking these questions, and just start writing!

march 27/BIKERUN

bike: 4 minutes
run: 3.5 miles
outside: feels like 13

Snow and ice on the ground. Wind. Feels like 13. Inside today. I would have done more on the bike, but my calf started to feel a little strange — tightening, but no pain.

The run was good — a few flares, then my heel made some noise at the end, again, no pain, just tight, I think. I locked into a steady, slow pace and listened to the latest episode of Nobody Asked Us. Des told a story about her recent NY 1/2 marathon and how she should have woken up 30 minutes earlier in order for the coffee to do its job — iykyk. The story was funny — I laughed several times — and also fascinating. She talked about how she couldn’t push the pace because if she tried, it would have been a big mess. She was able to control it by managing her effort and working with her body, not against it.

Later, giving a pep talk to Kara for her upcoming race she said something like, You’ll be running along and then suddenly someone in a banana costume will pass you and you’ll say, “hell no, that ridiculous thing can’t beat me!” and you’ll speed up. Thinking about our encounter with the fast banana in our 10k race I wonder, are bananas a thing in races now? Will I see more bananas next month?

before the run

Yesterday I mentioned that it was Robert Frost’s 150th birthday, but I forgot to mention 2 things.

First, when I told FWA about it, he said, And I took the road less travelled and that has made all the difference — or something like that. A few minutes later, as we were walking to the garage to leave for the airport he called out, Mom, look — then walked off the sidewalk into the grass, looped around a bush, then returned to sidewalk and said, See, the road less travelled. Wow.

Second, in honor of Frost’s birthday Poetry Foundation posted his poem, Acquainted with the Night, which I recall first reading through Edward Hirsch’s essay, “The Pace Provokes My Thought.” Acquainted. Another word for familiar with, know of or known to, on friendly terms. I want to add this word to my list of alternatives to know/ing, along with ED’s accustomed, as in We grow accustomed to the Dark. I like the friendliness of acquainted, which is slightly different than the “getting used to” of ED’s accustomed. I also like that it’s friendly, but not too friendly; there’s still some distance from whatever it is that you are acquainted with — an acquaintance not an old friend.

Now I’m thinking about the word familiar. Two immediate thoughts. First, an idea from Alice Oswald that I revisited the other day:

citing Zizek: we can’t connect, be one with nature. It’s extraordinary, alien. It’s this terrifying otherness of nature that we need to grasp hold of and be more courageous in our ways of living with it and seeing it.

Landscape and Literature Podcast: Alice Oswald on the Dart River

So, familiar is bad for poetry? We need to make the familiar strange, fresh.

Second — I just spent 15 or 20 minutes attempting to find the log entry and poem that made think of this second thing and couldn’t, so I am very reluctantly giving up on it. — thinking about poems and how they can also take the strange and make it familiar, or take strangers and make them friends. I recall reading a poem — I think it was something about ROBINS! — I’m keeping this strange sentence in as evidence of my mind at work. After I gave up on finding and just tried to remember what I said, suddenly I recalled what the poem I was searching for was about and how reading it connected me to a stranger: robins. So I searched back through my posts for “robins” and finally found it. Hooray!

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about how poetry makes the familiar strange, but I think poetry can also make the strange familiar. Give us a door into the unfamiliar so we can get to know someone else and their experiences. The door in for me with this poem was all the robins. This past week, I saw so many fat robins on my crab apple tree, swaying and bobbing and getting drunk off the shriveled up apples. 

log from 14 jan 2023

Here’s the line from the poem that helped me get acquainted with its author, David Eye:

Cousin–When a dozen robins blew into the yard yesterday–
I’d never seen so many–I watched them hop, cock their heads,
grab the thaw’s first worms. Such a pleasure, those yam-
colored breast feathers.
(from Letter from the Catskills/ David Eye)

And now I’m thinking about the different ways that poetry has helped make the strange familiar to me, especially in terms of my vision. Since I rediscovered poetry in 2017, I’ve been reading, studying, and writing it as a way to better navigate my strange and uncertain and difficult experiences of slowly losing my cone cells. I’m building a new world and a new way to be that’s heavily populated with poetic lines, ideas, methods.

Last year, I wrote a cento in which I gathered lines from poets invoking color. The original title of it was, “When Poetry Replaces Dead Cone Cells, a cento”

The world mostly gone/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

The world mostly gone,
I make it what I want.


I empty my mind. I stuff it with grass.
I’m green, I repeat. I grow in green,


burst up in bonfires of green, whirl and hurl
my green over the rocks of this imaginary life.


Meanwhile the wild geese, high
in the clean blue air, are heading home


again. (Isn’t sky-blue brighter than any sky
you really see? Canned sky, Crayola blue.)


The sun is the yellowest squash. More yellow,
I think, of course more yellow.


A shiny switch plate in the otherwise ongoing green
flickers like a match held to a dry branch


and the whole world goes up in orange. Orange
as pumpkins in a field humming.


I write a line about orange.
Pretty soon it is a whole page


of words, not lines. Then another page.
And that orange, it makes me so happy.

march 26/SHOVEL

25 minutes
4 or 5 inches?
still snowing
25 degrees

earlier today: As I write this, it is 9 am and snowing. We (Scott, me, FWA, RJP) are about to leave for the airport — the kids are flying to Chicago. . . . Happy 150th birthday Robert Frost! Recited “Out, Out –” to RJP in honor of it. I don’t get it, was her response. Oh well.

now — 12:40: Just finished shoveling. Such heavy, wet snow and still coming down. Decided to do a pass now for future Scott and Sara. Plus, I wanted some exercise.

The kids are at the airport, waiting for their flight; it was delayed by an hour and a half. That sucks, but it’s a good reminder to them of how flying sometimes works — lots of delays and getting to the airport way too early and sitting around.

look them in the eye

Wanted to archive some more examples of “looking people in the eyes” that I heard on a podcast and read in a book yesterday:

During the pandemic I had started saying hello to people and looking people in the eyes. We had masks on and gloves on, so you really had to connect with people by looking them in the eye. And one of the things I started to notice was people who are down on themselves — and, you know, they sort of taught us how to see if someone was smiling through eyes — and so, when someone was having a bad day to really make sure I connected with their eyes and be like, here’s a little bit of my light. You’re having a tough day, I want to pass something to you. . . . And I find connecting with people, for me, really reduces my anxiety.

episode 156

I like archiving these examples because sometimes I wonder if I’m making a bigger deal out of losing the ability to make eye connect and see people’s faces. I also like archiving them because I am a former academic who needs evidence and examples to prove my points. Now that I’ve done more reading and thinking about eye contact, I know that making eye contact, even during the masked faces of the pandemic, is not the only way we can connect with others, but it still is alienating and exhausting and anxiety-inducing not to be able to do it.

And here are two other “eye-looking” examples, both from the book I just finished, The Thursday Murder Club:

You can really see in the eyes of the couple which one wants to move, and which one is just going along with it.

describing the show, Escape to the Country

You know when you look into someone’s eyes for the first time and the whole world breaks apart? And you just think, “Of course, of course, this is what I’ve been waiting for all this time”?

telling a story about “love at first sight”

This idea of being able to see who wants to move by looking in someone’s eyes reminds me of a great chapter from Georgina Kleege, in Sight Unseen, “Here’s Looking At You Kid.”

When the sighted describe facial expressions, the eyes are more central and more active. Eyes glow, twinkle, sparkle, shimmer, smoulder, flicker, projecting emotions the viewer readily understands. But what I know about the visual system tells me the eyes cannot do all this. They receive and respond to light but cannot emit it. The “flash of recognition” or “spark of understanding” the teacher sees in his students’ eyes is merely a trick of lighting. The lids rise, in wonder and surprise, exposing more of the slick surface of the eyeball to reflect light back to the beholder. Illumination. The downcast eye beneath half-lowered lids cannot catch and throw back the light, and so seems dull and unenlightened. The eyes themselves are passive. Without the context of the mobile face around them, and the play of light upon them, they remain unchanging and vacant. But in the language of the sighted, where seeing is believing, the eyes must be the focal point of every expression. All the wrinkles and crinkles of emotion occur only to funnel meaning into the eyes.

And this:

I worry that the sighted delude themselves, and put themselves at risk. Because when most of them look into my eyes, they see me as sighted. If eye contact matters so much surely it should be harder to fake. Perhaps it is only the expectations of the sighted. When I aim my eyes in more or less the right direction, the sighted see it as close enough. But if a mere millimeter could make an inquiring look into a menacing stare, shouldn’t my fraud be instantly obvious?

Be honest. Look at me when I’m talking to you. Do you really see all that you say? Or is it a convenience of language to ascribe to my eyes those qualities, emotions, messages you derive from the rest of my face, our surroundings, or the words I speak? Aren’t you projecting your own expectations, interpretations, or desires onto my blank eyes? And if you’re really being honest, really looking closely, my eyes are no more vacant than a sighted person’s eyes. My eyes and their eyes send back the same reflection. Of course this hypothesis comes full circle. If I see your eyes as blank, it is only because I am projecting what I see (or don’t) onto you. But only you can say for sure. Go ahead. Take a good look. Pull the wool off your eyes. Tell me what you see.

march 25/RUN

3.5 miles
treadmill
outside: rain

Yesterday snow, today rain. Slick and slushy. Yuck! Decided to skip the bike and go straight for the treadmill. Listened to a Hit Play Not Pause podcast about fixed and open mindsets during perimenopause. In the past, I’ve been critical of the mindset concept, especially how it was preached to my daughter who was struggling with crippling anxiety in elementary school, but I appreciated the episode. I like the idea of excavating the fixed ideas we tell ourselves — but I prefer story or narrative — and transforming them. Many of these stories are buried deep and take some work to uncover. As I was listening to it, and agreeing with a lot of it, I was also thinking: it’s hard to do that work when you’re coming undone with anxiety. I remember my daughter feeling so frustrated and overwhelmed and pissed off when some adult would tell her, Just open your mind! Don’t be so fixed and stubborn! I know when I feel like I can’t breathe because I’m all worked up for something, I don’t have the ability to expose intractable beliefs!

Here are some fixed stories I’ve been telling myself for a while about doctors, some of which I inherited from a mother who had been traumatized by doctors as a kid: They can’t understand what’s happening with me. They won’t believe me. They will just give me useless advice or advice that makes me worry even more or want to do a bunch of unnecessary tests. I’m better off figuring it out for myself — you’re on your own, kid. Some of this is true, but not all of it. And there are doctors who can help me, at least sometimes; I just need to find them. And, if not doctors, there are other people too, like physical therapists. Which is all to say: my calf still feels strange and I should look into scheduling an appointment!

Okay, no more writing. I have 10 hours left to read my wonderful book — The Thursday Murder Club — before it is automatically returned. Can I do it? With my eyes, it will be close.

update: I finished the book! It wasn’t a long or difficult book, but still a challenge for me to read with so few cone cells. Yesterday, when I was trying to read, I kept falling asleep after every sentence. But I did it.

march 24/BIKERUN

bike: 15 minutes
run; 1 mile
basement
outside: snowing

A big storm, just starting, but not quite. Now, light snow. We’re expecting 5-9 inches. I wasn’t sure how icy the sidewalks were or how ready my calf was to run, so I decided to work out in the basement.

calf update, for future Sara (and maybe her physical therapist?): during the race yesterday, my calf felt a little strange a few times — a slight tightening? no pain — but was otherwise fine. After the race: some soreness and tightness. today during the bike: a few more flares, an occasional twinge with a little pain. during the run: started feeling sore about 8 minutes, then a little strange. It’s so hard to know what the right thing to do is — stop running? ignore it as nothing, or as a calf that cramped and is now recovering? schedule a pt appointment? If I can get an appointment, I’d like to see a pt. Even if the calf is nothing, it would great to be checked out before serious marathon training begins.

Watched the women’s road race (cycling) from Tokyo while I biked. When the silver medalist, Annemiek Van Vleuten, crossed the line, she thought she had won gold; she didn’t realize that someone in the breakaway had stayed away. background: A. Van Vleuten had been about to win the gold in Rio but had a horrific crash into a cement barricade. She put off retiring for another 5 years just to try and win the gold in Tokyo. Wow. How do you recover from that disappointment? I’m always amazed at the resilience of athletes.

While I ran, I listened to a winter playlist. Other than my calf, I felt good.

Earlier today, I found an article about James Schuyler and this wonderful poem, which I may have read before, but was delighted by today:

The Bluet/ James Schuyler

And is it stamina
that unseasonably freaks
forth a bluet, a
Quaker lady, by
the lake? So small,
a drop of sky that
splashed and held,
four-petaled, creamy
in its throat. The woods
around were brown,
the air crisp as a
Carr’s table water
biscuit and smelt of
cider. There were frost
apples on the trees in
the field below the house.
The pond was still, then
broke into a ripple.
The hills, the leaves that
have not yet fallen
are deep and oriental
rug colors. Brown leaves
in the woods set off
gray trunks of trees.
But that bluet was
the focus of it all: last
spring, next spring, what
does it matter? Unexpected
as a tear when someone
reads a poem you wrote
for him: “It’s this line
here.” That bluet breaks
me up, tiny spring flower
late, late in dour October.

The analysis in this essay is all helpful to me, but I was particularly struck by this bit:

. . . Schuyler’s description of the flower transforms it into art, and that this kind of transformation is his signature poetic activity; it happens again and again in his poems: he describes what he sees before him as if it were a painting so that observation of the natural world becomes ekphrasis. That’s why—to skip down a little—the leaves are likened to a rug, crossing outside and inside, nature and culture, and those leaves “set off” the gray the way a painter or sharp dresser uses one color to set off or complement another, why the air is like a made thing, too, if one you eat, and why the bluet is called “the focus,” the way art critics say something is “the focus of the composition.” Schuyler’s words are paintbrushes, what he describes becomes a painting (though he treats it as already painted)—paint, a medium that splashes and then holds. There are examples of this everywhere in his books. In “Evenings in Vermont,” for instance, a rug again mediates between inside and outside, art and nature: “I study / the pattern in a red rug, arabesques / and squares, and one red streak / lies in the west, over the ridge.” In “Scarlet Tanager,” the bird in the tree provides “the red touch green / cries out for.” In “A Gray Thought,” “a dark thick green” is “laid in layers on / the spruce …” And so on. Touches, layerings: color as paint, natural phenomena perceived as art.  

It’s This Line / Here” : Happy Belated to Birthday James Schuyler

This idea of natural phenomena as art and of Schuyler as describing flowers with painting terms and of him doing ekphrastic poems might be a way into my “How I See” ekphrasis project!

march 23/RACE

10k
Hot Dash
18 degrees

Not a fast run, but I felt relaxed and strong, and I powered up the big hill. No difficulty at all. I picked it up a little at the end and enjoyed crossing the finish line. A victory! Maybe the hardest thing about the race was holding back — I kept wanting to go faster than Scott, but I kept it slow and relaxed. My goal is not a fast time, but to be able to run the marathon with Scott.

For most of the race I recounted stories — probably the same stories — about past races: having to run ahead to get water for FWA in our 5k, RJP being very disturbed by a runner who was dry heaving as he neared the finish line, a wheezing runner dying on a hill, running way too fast in the first 5k of a 10k then dying and having to stop and walk several times for the second 5k.

10 Things

  1. 2 women behind us lamenting how they were both such bad singers — I played an instrument, but I just can’t hear the notes. I turn the radio way up to drown out my own voice. I wanted to turn aroudn and say, Me too!
  2. the crappy pre-recorded version of the national anthem before the race
  3. cold, cold fingers and toes for the first mile
  4. Scott yelling, Banana!, when a guy in a banana costume ran by
  5. Overheard: Oh right — I get a beer when I’m done with this! note: our bibs had a ticket for one free beer at the end
  6. Overheard: runner with a 1/2 mile before she would reach the turn around: where is the turn around anyway? I wanted to say, a long way, but didn’t
  7. a few patches of snow and ice near the edges of the road
  8. snow on the grass
  9. the cobblestones at the end were in bad shape — lots of holes, rough, uneven
  10. on the cobbles, I heard someone behind sprinting and yelling but they never passed. What happened? did they think the race finished sooner? did they sprint too soon and run out of gas? I’ll probably never know

march 22/SHOVELWALK

20 minutes
3? inches
28 degrees

3 or 4 inches for round 1 of winter. We might get more snow in last night’s snowfall, combined with expected snow on Sun/Mon/Tues, than in all of Jan and Feb. Of course, that’s not saying much because our total prior to today was 7.3 inches. I wonder if what we got today will be melted by Monday? Future Sara, let us know!

six hours later: The snow has already melted off of the deck, the sidewalks, the road. Will the snow on the grass be gone before Sunday? Still not sure.

the secret life of plants

sources:

Yesterday afternoon, driving back from picking FWA up for spring break, we were talking about trees and how they communicate and their underground networks and how much sentience they have, and I remembered, and tried (unsuccessfully) to explain, the 1970s talking-to-plants craze. I mentioned how Stevie Wonder did an album about it. Scott didn’t remember the album. This morning I looked it up and . . . jackpot! Stevie Wonder’s album: Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants. I’m listening to it right now — ah, 1979! It is the soundtrack for a documentary, The Secret Life of Plants, which may or may not be a reliable source of “accurate” information about plant science (botany?) discoveries in the 1970s — wikipedia doesn’t seem to think so. I dug a little deeper and found an article about the plant craze of the 1970s — The 1970s plant craze / Teresa Castro

In the early 1970s, a general plant craze caught on in visual and popular culture alike. Against the background of New Age spirituality and the flourishing of ecological thinking, the 1970s plant mania came as an eccentric blow to the belief that sentience and intelligence are a human prerogative. It also relied massively on the cybernetic paradigm: envisaged as self-regulating biological systems, plants were recognized as communication systems in themselves. In this essay, I sketch a brief portrait of this complex cultural moment, as visual culture, and in particular film, came to be permeated by references to plant communication, plant sentience and plant intelligence.

intro to 1970s plant craze

In the first line she mentions a 1972 video, Teaching a Plant the Alphabet. Love it!

In her discussion of “The Secret Life of Plants,” Castro describes the author as a “botanist and science vulgarizer” and places the work in the context of a large anti-science and anti-intellectual moment; a hippy desire to heal the crisis in human/nature relationships; and significantly for this article, the mediation of visual and other technologies, like the lie detector. The book takes up the “experiments” of Cleve Backster in 1966 in which he hooked a plant up to a lie detector and noticed a surge in electrical activity similar to a human’s emotional response when he watered the plant. Then, an even greater one when he imagined setting fire to the plant and watching it burn. His conclusion: This plant could think! It “could perceive and respond telepathically to human thoughts and emotions.”

Her conclusion about the book/documentary and its impact:

The Secret Life of Plants badly impacted serious scientific research on plants’ sensory and perceptual capacities. Widespread press coverage of Backster’s pseudo-experiments contributed to this backlash. Work on plant communication and plant signaling “was somewhat stigmatized, and the limited availability of funding and other resources constrained further progress.”

In our present dire ecological crisis, to acknowledge the richness and complexity of plant-life is an invitation to withdraw from a centric reason that separated humans from “nature,” situating human life outside and above it. In what constituted a striking ecological critique of Enlightenment science and its holy dualisms, “hippy times” attempted to tell a different kind of story about “Man” and “Nature” and grappled with a fundamental epistemological shift. Most of all, they experimented widely with alternative modes of engagement with what poet Gary Snyder described as “the most ruthlessly exploited classes”: “animals, trees, water, air, grasses.” As we emerge shell-shocked from a global pandemic, what are we to do now? Maybe we can learn from the past: instead of imagining that “plants are like people”, as suggested by “America’s Master Gardener” in 1971,57 we can focus instead on what it means to be human on a shared planet.

This discussion of plants and communication reminded me of a study I read during my mushroom month: April, 2022. Looked it up and found the entry: 10 april 2022

After a discussion of study about fungi language, I posted this quotation from Alice

Oswald:

I exert incredible amounts of energy trying to see things from their own points of view rather than the human point of view.

It’s a day long effort to get your mind into the right position to live and speak well.

citing Zizek: we can’t connect, be one with nature. It’s extraordinary, alien. It’s this terrifying otherness of nature that we need to grasp hold of and be more courageous in our ways of living with it and seeing it.

Landscape and Literature Podcast: Alice Oswald on the Dart River

Instead of “plants are just like us; they can think and feel!” of the 70s plant craze, Oswald is holding onto the strange otherness of plants. I wonder what Oswald, a former professional gardener, thinks about the sentience of plants?

I googled the question, but before I could find an answer, I found her amazing lecture on the tradition of rhapsody, the litae women in the Iliad, back doors, and Marianne Moore. Wow!

Sidelong Glances: Oblique Commentary on the Poetry of Marianne Moore / Alice Oswald

I listened to the lecture, going back again and again to try and transcribe some of her brilliant words. Her “obliquely, slightly, slowly” approach to Moore with a description of rhapsody and the “squinting, limping old women” of the Iliad (litae) and the need for coming through the back door and repeated image (and sound) of iron bell resounding like the voices of dead poets that came before us was amazing. I’ll have to listen to it again, I think.

a few passages to remember

The poet, especially the female poet, must labor not only to hear the voices of the literate dead, but my leaning and hushing and listening beyond listening to hear the illiterate, anonymous, marginal voices of rhapsody.

Literature has a front door and a back door, and the labor of moving through poems, opening the back doors to let in the fresh air of the unwritten, if you do it for long enough, finally compels you to leave the house altogether, since the tradition inherited by the oral tradition goes right back into birdsong, windsong, heartbeats, footsteps, rivers, and thickets. Not to mention all the oscillating sounds of tides and seasons and waves and why shouldn’t rhapsody include the stitch work of plants?

Go in through the back door?! Love this idea and what it mean for how I understand doors being opened through poetry! And connecting it to birdsong and wind song and all those amazing sounds heard while running above the gorge! And plants!

[not nature poetry but] natural pattern which includes and aligns the poem making habits of the mind with the metrical structures of physics. That is what I mean by rhapsody and that is what I want you to listen for when you put your ear to a written-down poem: backwards and beyond male literature, as far as the first repetition of a leaf on the first repetition of a morning.

Aligning the poem-making habits of the mind with the metrical structures of physics: the biomechanics of running, the drip drip dripping of water due to gravity, air being forced out of and welcomed into the lungs. And the repetitions — the first repetition of a leaf on the first repetition of a morning — very cool.

And, where to place Robin Wall Kimmerer within this conversation? I think I have an answer, but I decided to read another section of Gathering Moss about the Standing Stones. After writing about scientific names for mosses and reflecting on the power in self-naming, she writes:

I think the task given to me is to carry out the message that mosses have their own names. Their way of being in the world cannot be told by data alone. They remind me to remember that there are mysteries for which a measuring tape has no meeaning, questions and answers that have no place in the truth about rocks and mosses.

Gathering Moss

As I typed up the title of RWK’s book, I just realized something great about the title: gathering moss can refer to us (readers) gathering up stories and lessons from the moss, but it can also mean moss gathering — an image of a complex community of mosses and the agency of moss to gather themselves, independent of us. Nice.

random: Last night I discovered that a cartwheel is named after the wheel of a cart. When you are doing a cartwheel, you are acting like a wheel of a cart. Duh — I guess it seems obvious, but I associated the words so strongly with my memories of gymnastics as a kid that I never thought about it referred to outside of that.

march 20/RUN

4 miles
trestle+ turn around
22 degrees
wind: 21 mph gusts

Straight into the wind running north. Not fun, but not nearly as bad as yesterday. Felt stronger, faster for parts of it. Running up the hill just south of the lake street bridge my calf tightened up a little. I stopped, walked, then started again, more cautious this time. Thought about Thomas Gardner and Poverty Creek Journal and his brief descriptions of sore calves after a tough session of hill repeats. After lots of anxiety for weeks, calf pain is now just a normal/regular part of my running. I’m glad — not for the off and on pain, but for the everydayness of it.

Some shadows — soft, crooked, in motion: birds, gnarled tree branches, broken fence rails. Other shadows — dark, on trees, looking like someone standing there. Don’t remember seeing the river but I do remember the floodplain forest — open, bare, beautiful. No chain across the top of the old stone steps. Wondered what will happen in a few days; big snow predicted, well, possible.

Listened to birds and cars and grit on the trail running north, my winter playlist running south.

before the run

Encountered these lines on twitter this morning, from Charles Wright:

When what you write about is what you see, what do you write about when it’s dark?

Charles Wright

I like thinking/reading/writing about the dark. Imagining it otherwise, not as the absence of light, where light = life and happiness and safety, but as where more things are possible, outside the scrutiny of those watching and judging and classifying. The dark, soft. The dark, no need for sharp vision or eye contact. The Dark, where Emily Dickinson’s little men hurry home to their house unperceived and robins in a trundle bed try and fail to hide their wings under their nightgowns. Where Carl Phillip’s willow wants more for compassion than for company. The dark: the moon, the stars, louder silence. The dark, where reds and greens and blues and yellows are no longer necessary —

A strange thing I’ve realized about my color vision. I can still see colors — the light green placemat my computer sits on, the purplish-reddish-blueish of my computer desktop, my bright blue hydroflask. And I can still see when things are in color. But, when something lacks color, like a movie in black and white or the middle of the night in my bedroom, I can’t tell that there isn’t any color. It looks and feels the same.

4 moments when I noticed this:

one and two: from a log entry on 13 nov 2022

1 Yesterday afternoon, in the chapel at Gustavus, which was not dim but not bright either, I started to notice that looking one direction, toward the far window on the other side, the only color I could see was an occasional red square embedded in the walls (I double-checked with Scott; there were also a bunch of blue squares too). The hymnals 15-20 feet away, which I know are red, looked dark but colorless. Staring out at the crowd of people, everyone looked like they were dressed in dark or light — not quite black or white, just dark clothes or light clothes. No variation, no purples or blues or oranges or anything but dark and light. It was strange, partly because it didn’t feel strange. It wasn’t like I thought, where is all the color?

2 It felt more like when I wake up in the dark and, after my eyes adjust, I see the room and it looks like the room, but just darker, dimmer and without color. And, usually I don’t think there’s no color — sometimes I might even think I see color because I know my robe is purple or the pillow is yellow, or I don’t see yellow, but I recognize the pillow on the couch as that yellow pillow because I already know it’s yellow.

three: from a log entry on 12 jan 2024

The other day, Scott, FWA, and I were discussing the scenes in Better Call Saul that are set in the present day and are in black and white. Scott and FWA both agreed that those were harder to watch — they had to pay more careful attention — because they lacked color, which is harder because visual stories often rely heavily on color to communicate ideas/details. I said I didn’t realize that they were in black and white; they didn’t look any different to me than the other scenes, which are in vivid color (at least that’s what they tell me). I realized something: it’s not that I don’t see color, it just doesn’t communicate anything to me, or if it communicates it’s so quiet that I don’t notice what it’s saying.

four: this week

A few days ago, we decided to finally watch Maestro. Wow! We haven’t finished it yet, but Scott and I are really enjoying it. The first scene is in color, which is intended to represent the present, at least the present as it exists in the movie. The second scene is in black and white and represents Bernstein just before his big break. After watching it for a minute or two Scott said, you see that this in black and white, right? And I said, oh, is it? I didn’t notice. I was focused on the contrast — the dark, closed-curtain window and the outline of brightness around it.

Color exists, it just doesn’t speak to me in the same ways (as it used to, or as it does to other people). It’s not a foreign language, it is just turned down, whispering. Yes, it does make it harder to understand visual stories that rely on color to tell part of the story — a favorite: present times = color; the past = black and white — but it doesn’t bother me that much. Instead, I find it fascinating, the opportunity to notice the constructs of color and to see the world (and color) differently.

Okay, that was a long ramble about color and black and white, but I think I’d like to write another color poem about it.

Now back to the quote from Charles Wright on twitter. As is often the case, there was no mention of where it came from, other than it was from Charles Wright. I always find this frustrating. But, I found it easily enough: Littlefoot, 32 in The New Yorker, 2007. Such a wonderful poem!

Back yard, my old station, the dusk invisible in the trees,
But there in its stylish tint,
Everything etched and precise before the acid bath
—Hemlocks and hedgerows—
Of just about half an hour from now,
Night in its soak and dissolve.
Pipistrello, and gun of motorcycles downhill,
A flirt and a gritty punctuation to the day’s demise
And one-starred exhalation,

V of geese going south,
My mind in their backwash, going north.

my old station: love this way of describing a usual spot to sit
the stylish tint: oh, the softness of near-night!
everything etched and precise: I love walking at night in the winter and noticing the contrast between the sky and the bare branches, which I can see more clearly than at any other time. During the day, those branches are a fuzzy blur, but at night they are etched!
Hemlocks and Hedgerows: sounds like a musical act or a comedy duo Scott adds: proto Prog rock/psychedelic band, Margaret’s Electric Forest or Garden, first album: Hemlocks & Hedgerows
a pipistrello is Italian for bat, or “small mouse-like animal that flies”
sounds of day’s demise: a flirt of a bat, the gritting punctuation of a motorcycle’s gun downhill
one-starred exhalation: me, almost every night — o, look at the stars!
I love hearing, then seeing, a V of geese in the evening. The choice of backwash instead of wake is interesting — and flying south/mind going north is a wonderful way to suggest being out of sync

Wow, that is one packed first stanza! I’ll skip the next one to get to the quoted lines:

When what you write about is what you see,
what do you write about when it’s dark?
Paradise, Pound said, was real to Dante because he saw it.
Nothing invented.
One loves a story like that, whether it’s true or not.
Whenever I open my eyes at night, outside,
flames edge at the edge
Of everything, like the sides of a nineteenth-century negative.
If time is a black dog, and it is,
Why do I always see its breath,
its orange, rectangular breath
In the dark?
It’s what I see, you might say, it’s got to be what my eyes see.

I’ll have to think about these lines some more. Right now I wonder, when your peripheral vision is fraying, do you see strange things, like flames, at the edges? What do edges look like to me in the dark? I’ll try to remember to notice when I wake up in the middle of the night tonight, like every night. In the light, they are fuzzy and dance a soft shimmy.

It’s real because we see it? Different ways to respond to this. I’m thinking about how so much of what our eyes see is illusion or guessing based on habits and repeated practice and context and other brain tricks. Even so, most people believe that what they are seeing is real. If they believe, and act as if what they are seeing is real, why can’t I believe and act as if what I’m seeing is real too? All those soft, generous things; those strange headless and legless torsos walking towards me; that river burning with a white heat that sets the trees on fire?

Okay, it’s almost 11 am. I need to go out for my run before I finish this!

during the run

Did I think about this poem at all while I was running? I can’t remember.

after the run

During the run, I noticed bird shadows crossing my feet, both of us flying, the birds in the air, be just above the trail. I decided to add it into a fun poem I’m writing called “Birding.” It’s a series of small verses in my 3/2 form in which I describe how I see birds with my cone-dead eyes.

Not sure if this works:

vi.

a shadow
travels

over feet
running

downhill — flight
4 ways:

the moving
shadow

the descending
runner

a belief
shadows

signal some

thing and

the small form
gliding

closer to

the sun.

shadows

1

And just like that, my plan to return to Wright’s poem will have to wait. Instead, I’m thinking about shadows, which is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I realized, earlier this month, that shadows see more real to me (as in, having more substance, easier to see as solid) than the object from which they’re cast — is that the most awkward way to say that? Here’s what I wrote on march 9, 2024:

As I was admiring the fence railing shadows I thought about how clear and real they seemed to me. Much more there than the actual fence railing, which was staticky and vague.

log / 9 march 2024
2

So, in the draft of my poem, I wrote: a belief/shadows/signal some/thing. In a different version, I wrote: a belief/shadows/have substance. Do I like that better? I can’t decide. I think it was inspired by a passage I read in Becoming Animal (which was a recommendation from my super smart niece):

One of the marks of our obliviousness, one of the countless signs that our thinking minds have grown estranged from the intelligence of our sensing bodies, is that today a great many people seem to believe that shadows are flat. If I am strolling along a street on a cloudless afternoon and I notice a shapeshifting patch of darkness accompanying me as I walk, splayed out on the road perpendicular to my upright self, its appendages stretching and shrinking with the swinging of my limbs, I instantly identify this horizontal swath as my shadow. As thought a shadow was merely this flatness, this kinetic pancake, this creature of two dimensions whom one might peel of the street and drape over the nearest telephone wire.

Becoming Animal / David Abram

I haven’t finished the chapter yet, but I was able to access it through the reading sample on amazon — so I’ll return to finish later.

3

The line about draping the shadow over a telephone wire enabled me to remember a delight poem I read by Paige Lewis a few years ago:

When I Tell My Husband I Miss the Sun, He Knows/ Paige Lewis

what I really mean. He paints my name

across the floral bed sheet and ties the bottom corners
to my ankles. Then he paints another

for himself. We walk into town and play the shadow game,
saying Oh! I’m sorry for stepping on your

shadow! and Please be careful! My shadow is caught in the wheels
of your shopping cart.
It’s all very polite.

Our shadows get dirty just like anyone’s, so we take
them to the Laundromat—the one with

the 1996 Olympics themed pinball machine—
and watch our shadows warm

against each other. We bring the shadow game home
and (this is my favorite part) when we

stretch our shadows across the bed, we get so tangled
my husband grips his own wrist,

certain it’s my wrist, and kisses it.


march 19/RUN

4.2 miles
minnehaha falls and back
43 degrees
wind: 31 mph gusts

So windy today! My legs felt heavy. I wonder if part of the problem is that I’m running so late in the morning? I didn’t start until almost 11:30. Still glad I went for a run, but I wish it would have felt a little easier and I would have worn less layers — maybe skipped the buff?

Listened to kids on the playground, birds, random voices, falling water for the first half of the run. Put in headphones and listened to Taylor Swift for the second half.

before the run

Reading through an entry from March 19, 2017 about the new poetry class I was taking, I found this:

In the editor’s note it’s mentioned that Mayer writes hypnogogic poems. I looked up the word and found the definition (a state between waking and sleeping, when drowsy) and an interview with Mayer about how, after suffering a stroke, she experimented with using a tape recorder to record her thoughts in this drowsy/dreamy state. So cool. Currently, I’m writing about running and I’d like to experiment with ways to express the dreamlike state I sometimes enter during long runs.

Reading this bit, I got an idea, which I typed up in my “Notes for Haunts, fall 2023” pages document:

the dream like state of running, when the mind is shut down
haunting = possessing or being possessed — what if haunting was not just being taken over by someone/thing else (possessed) or taking over someone/thing else (possessing) but becoming untethered or loosely tetered from your body — floating on the path in-between in that strange empty space between banks between sky and ground between worlds between You and I? this could be another form of haunting — what if I started writing small-ish poems that offered different definitions of haunt? 

A few definitions of haunt I’m thinking about right now: feeling disembodied, having an out-of-body experience and being obsessed/preoccupied/consumed by a thought or idea — having a bee in your bonnet.

bee in your bonnet

Here’s an article about the origins of the phrase. According to the article, the phrase is still being used in popular culture. I use it, usually when I notice Scott hell-bent on some task — and usually it seems like a task, or idea, that is fool-hardy but that he needs to work through and figure out for himself.

Sometimes instead of saying, bee in your bonnet, I say that someone (or me) is hellbent. Of course, writing that immediately makes me think of Jackie from the 1979 Death on the Nile:

Jacqueline De Bellefort : One must follow one’s star wherever it leads. 
Hercule Poirot : Even to disaster?
Jacqueline De Bellefort : Even to Hell itself.

When I envision a bee in my bonnet, I see something that is relentless, impossible to ignore, urgently needing to be dealt with. That’s not quite how I imagine my preoccupation with haunts and ghosts and writing about the gorge. Still, I like the idea of bees in bonnets, and bees in general, so maybe I’ll spend more time with them this morning?

Reading through several ED “bee” poems, I suddenly had a thought: could the bee in your bonnet be your soul, trying to escape the confines of the body?

This thought was inspired by a poem I wrote about in an On This Day post: Body and Soul/ Sharon Bryan. I didn’t mention it in the post, but the description of the soul in the poem, as leaving the body at night to roam around, reminded me of an ED poem I read a few weeks ago, when I was thinking about the difference between the brain and the mind:

If ever the lid gets off my head/ Emily Dickinson

If ever the lid gets off my head
And lets the brain away
The fellow will go where he belonged —
Without a hint from me,

And the world — if the world be looking on —
Will see how far from home
It is possible for sense to live
The soul there — all the time.

So much to think about on my run (I’m writing this before I headed out). Will I see any bees about by the gorge? Very unlikely, I think.

during the run

Thought about a bee in my bonnet as an obsession that I wanted to release, so I imagined opening the top of my head like the door of a cage and letting the bee fly free. What would/could happen if I did this? Would I find some new ways to think about my experiences?

Also, randomly remembered something about bees in a horror movie, then remembered the movie, Candyman. Looked up, “gothic horror bees” and found this 1978 movie, The Bees.

Not too far into the run I think I forgot about the bee. I was too distracted by my heavy legs and wondering if my calf would do something strange, and the wind. No escape from my body today.

after my run

Now, ED’s poem about the lid of her head coming off makes me think of a favorite Homer Simpson bit:

Homer reluctantly listens to Ned Flanders drone on about the differences between juice and cider. A voice says, You can stay, but I’m leaving, and Homer’s brain exits his head and floats away as we hear a slide whistle. A few seconds later his body collapses on the floor and we hear a thud.

I love the image of the brain floating away. And, instead of a daydream where Homer’s brain gets to wander while his zoned-out body stays and pretends to listen, his body collapses, unable to continue without the brain. This idea brings me back to the Sharon Bryan poem I mentioned earlier:

then they [body and soul] quarrel over which one of them 
does the dreaming, but the truth is, 

they can’t live without each other and 
they both know it, anima, animosity, 

the diaphragm pumps like a bellows 
and the soul pulls out all the stops— 

sings at the top of its lungs, laughs 
at its little jokes . . .

. . . the soul 
says, with a smirk, I was at the end 

of my tether, and it was, like a diver 
on the ocean floor or an astronaut 

admiring the view from outside 
the mother ship, and like them 

it would be lost without its air 
supply and protective clothing,

Okay — I’ve been thinking about a few things here: being weighed down/preoccupied with ideas/thoughts/subjects (obsessed); a desire to be released from the body and obsessions; images of bees in bonnets and bees in general. Maybe I’d like to explore some different images of bees, especially in Dickinson? Also, here are 2 other ways to think about obsessions as repetition and habit:

Camille: Some of the obsessions are never going to leave you, and to me, that was part of what I loved. With each page I thought, Oh, I’ve seen this before, but how is she going to manage it differently? It reminded me of the Miles Davis quote about John Coltrane that was a guiding force for me as I was writing my first book, when I was really worried that I was doing the same thing over and over and over again. And I read the liner notes where Davis wrote about Coltrane’s first solo album. He said, “I don’t understand why people don’t get John Coltrane’s music. All he is trying to do is play the same note as many ways as he possibly can.”

Writing a Grove: A Conversation with Poet Laureate Ada Limón

FADY JOUDAH: There is no life without repetition, beginning at the molecular, even particle level. There is no art without life. To remain viable, art, inseparable from the circularity of the human condition, also repeats. What is a life without memory? And what is memory if not repetition. But not all repetition guarantees what we call progress, a euphemism for wisdom. Repetition with reproducible results, for example, is a foundational concept of the scientific method. Yet science can be an instrument for the destruction of life as for its preservation. This suggests to me that repetition in art is our unconscious memory at work: art mimics the repetition of the life force within us. All art is a translation of life. Take Jackson Pollock’s so-called action painting. What is it if not a rhythm of a life force in all of us? In those paintings, the pattern is recognizable yet unnamable. It’s like watching electrons bounce off each other. The canvas contains entropy. We understand this at a cellular or quantum level.

When It Takes Root in the Heart: Conversations with Fady Joudah

march 18/BIKE

30 minutes
basement

A 10k run yesterday on a recovering calf means no running today. Decided to bike in the basement just so I could move a little. I should have watched Dickinson, but I watched an old Ironman instead.

All day, I’ve been reading my old Haunts notes, trying to pick one thing to write about. Am I getting somewhere? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s a beautiful poem I just discovered from Terrain. Wow!

Prayer of a Nonbeliever/ Tim Raphael

Cathartes aura—purifying breeze—
is one name for a turkey vulture,
and what if prayer is like that—
praise song for a scavenger?
What if prayer is like this walk,
the same one every day,
a mantra of footsteps on mesa rock,
raptors in the wind?
What if it begins as a hint
on the piñon stippled hills,
unfurls like a scent the dogs sense
with raised snouts?
I suspect there’s prayer in the primrose
come into flower,
flake-white blossoms
blanketing the path,
in the rhythm of my quickened pulse
on the climb.
And if prayer takes its time on ridgelines,
in scant shade,
if it lingers by a petroglyph picked
into basalt—two figures with hands on hips
as if ready to dance—
then perhaps I am learning to pray.
Today, another friend’s diagnosis,
and who am I to scoff at believers?
I too like the idea of prayer as a stand-in
for clumsy words like hope,
wonder and love—for this green
green valley slaked on spring runoff,
for the whorl of dihedral wings
and the uneven heat of rising air.

that turn — another friend’s diagnosis — wow, those 3 words recalibrating the poem! I’d like to do something like that with my poems about the gorge!

march 17/RUN

6.2 miles
minnehaha dog park and back
wind: 13 mph / gusts: 27 mph

Another weekend run with Scott. We talked about Ada Limón’s National Park project and I recited Scott’s favorite line from one of the poems featured in the project. The line — Surely you can’t imagine they just stand there loving every minute of it. The poem — Can You Imagine/ Mary Oliver. Scott likes the line because it’s also a line from the Loverboy song, “Loving Every Minute of it.” As we ran into the wind I mentioned the terrible wind (and rain and cold) in the 2018 Boston Marathon. Scott talked about a dream he had last night that he went to a friend’s gig and how, when he woke up, he realized that that friend did actually have a gig last night. He also talked about birds — wild turkeys and his favorite encounter with them when he saw two walking side-by-side down a busy sidewalk near lake street.

When we started running, it was snowing — small flurries. At some point it stopped, but it stayed cold and windy. Writing this now, a half an hour later, I’m still cold.

image of the day: a robin on the edge of path, hopping along then flying across the path. Having noticed the leaves skittering in the wind on the other side of the path, at first I thought the robin was a leaf. But then, when it landed on the fence, I could tell it was a bird. After mentioning it to Scott, I recited a line from ED’s “A bird came down the Walk –“. I think I’ll write a little birding poem about this Robin!

10 Things

  1. skittering leaves
  2. a robin — first on the ground as a dark form that could be anything and that I thought was a bird, then fluttering across the path, then landing on the top of the fence
  3. flurries in the air — steady, then swirling, then a clump of them dumped
  4. water falling at the falls, a few bits of ice near the edge
  5. the creek, mostly flowing, but still on the edge, and low
  6. a walker with an unleashed dog, wandering around the trail
  7. the view of the river obscured by a screen of thin, unleafed branches
  8. the fake bells of the light rail on the other side of Hiawatha
  9. the curve of the river below us as we ran south toward fort snelling
  10. a steady cadence — the lift lift lift of my feet, slightly slower than Scott’s

march 16/RUN

2.2 miles
neighborhood
39 degrees / feels like 30
wind: 16 mph / 30 mph gusts

Windy! Colder. Winter layers: black running tights, black shorts, black shirt, purple jacket, pink ear band, black gloves, hat. Thought about running more but remembered that Scott and I are doing a 10k tomorrow. So I ran 2 miles through the neighborhood. My restraint was partly due to the wind, which I ran almost straight into heading north.

10 Things

  1. some dull wind chimes — it wasn’t the clunk clank of wood chimes, but also not the tinkle-tingle-shimmer of metal ones — an unpleasant cacophony
  2. right before starting: a crying kid on the next block — by the time I reached then and their entourage (mom, dog, stroller) — they were laughing — oh to be a kid and to shake anger or disappointment or whatever bad feelings they were having off that quickly — my 8 year old self used to be that way
  3. the trail on edmund between 32nd and 33rd started muddy then turned into hard, packed dirt
  4. heavy gray sky — the type of light that makes it hard for me to see anything completely
  5. the sky was dark enough that a house had on their garage light — I felt a flash of light! as I ran by
  6. harder to see the dirt trail and the roots
  7. voices across the road and below, on the trail — next to me, then ahead of me, then gone
  8. smoke from a chimney on edmund — reminder that winter is still here
  9. a loud rush of noise — an approaching car? No, the wind moving through a pine tree
  10. the swishswishswish of my ponytail hitting the collar of my jacket

Thinking about the wind, I reread ED’s poem, “The Wind.” Here are some ways she describes the wind:

  • old measure in the boughs
  • phraseless melody
  • fleshless chant

Searched “wind” on poems.com and found this amazing poem by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, “All Wild Animals Were Once Called Deer“:

High up a plane droned, drone of the cold, and behind us the flag
In front of the Bank of Hope’s branch trailer snapped and popped in the wind.
It sounded like a boy whipping a wet towel against a thigh

Or like the stiff beating of a swan’s wings as it takes off
From the lake, a flat drumming sound, the sound of something
Being pounded until it softens, and then—as the wind lowered

And the flag ran out wide—there was a second sound, the sound of running fire.
And there was the scraping, too, the sad knife-against-skin scraping
Of the acres of field corn strung out in straggling rows

Around the branch trailer that had been, the winter before, our town’s claim to fame
When, in the space of two weeks, it was successfully robbed twice.
The same man did it both times, in the same manner.

This whole poem is amazing, but too long to post here. What a storyteller BPK is! I should read her collection, Song.

more Lorine Niedecker and “Lake Superior”

On Thursday and Friday I read more of “Lake Superior.” I came to these lines and stopped:

Ruby of corundum
lapis lazuli
from changing limestone
glow-apricot red-brown
carnelian sard

Greek named
Exodus-antique
kicked up in America’s
Northwest
you have been in my mind
between my toes
agate

Huh? I am not an agate expert, so I had to look up everything but the last three lines. Without explaining it all (if I even could), I noticed how fascinated she is with language and culture and the history of the agate as it traveled across cultures.

Of course I might have understood more of the references if I had read her journal first, LN opens her travel journal with this:

The agate was first found on the shores of a river in Sicily and named by the Greeks. In the Bible (Exodus) this semi-precious stone was seen on the priest’s breastplate.

A rock is made of minerals constantly on the move and changing from heat, cold, and pressure.

On the next page, she writes: So—here we go. Maybe as rocks and I pass each other I could say how-do-you-do to an agate.

Then, a few pages later:

The North is one vast, massive, glorious corruption of rock and language—granite is underlaid with limestone or sandstone, gneiss is made-over granite, shales, or sandstone and so forth and so on and Thompsonite (or Thomasonite_ is often mistaken for agate and agate is shipped in from Mexico and Uruguay and can even be artifically dyed in the bargain. And look what’s been done to language!–People of all nationalities and color have changed the language like weather and pressure have changed the rocks.

And then:

I didn’t miss the Agate Shop sign. Woman there knew rocks. whole store of all kinds of samples, labelled. Sold them cheaply too, i.e. agates mounted on adjustable rings cost $1.75. I bought one of these, not the most beautiful but a Lake Superior one, I was told. Also bought . . . a brilliant carnelian from Uruguay. There were corundum samples—also from Canada, the stone that is next to diamonds in hardness. (Deep red rubies, which are corundum minerals, are valued more than diamonds.)

and:

The pebble has traveled. Long ago it might have been a drop of magma, molten rock that oured out from deep inside the earth. Perhaps when the magma coooled it formed part of a mountain that was later worn down and carried away by a rushing stream. Of the pebble may have been carried thousands of miles by a slowly moving glacier that finally melted and left it to be washed up for someone to pick up.

I love how LN took all of her notes and ideas about rock and language and culture and commerce and turned them into this small chunk of the poem. So much said, with so little words! And then to end it with: you have been in my mind/between my toes/agate Wow!

The trails above and beside the gorge have not been between my toes but under my feet and in my mind — maybe I could add a variation of this line to the first section of my poem?

march 14/RUN

4 miles
beyond the trestle turn around
50 degrees

Another 50 degree day! The right number of layers: black shorts, blue t-shirt, orange sweatshirt. Some wind, but not too much. Noticed (probably not for the first time) that they removed the porta potty by the 35th street parking lot. Why? There aren’t any porta potties — for runners or bikers or anyone who needs one — on the Minneapolis side between ford and franklin. Did they remove the one near Annie Young Meadow too? I’ll have to check next time I run down into the flats.

A good run. More soft shadows, other runners, one walker in a bright orange sweatshirt — just like me.

Near the beginning thought about the ringing of a bell as the signal of a ceremony starting. Then ED’s lines popped into my head: As all the Heavens were a Bell/And being, but an Ear — In the earlier versions of my Haunts poem, I begin with a bell. I could return to that, or maybe that is the start of another poem?

I ran north without headphones. I can’t remember what I heard. Running south I put in my Windows playlist.

After I finished my run, I listened to a podcast about perimenopause as I walked home. On this log over the past seven years, I’ve mentioned moments of increased anxiety and ongoing constipation. Present Sara (me) really appreciates that past Sara documented these. It’s helping me to understand my body better as I move into perimenopause. Last week, I discovered a great podcast about perimenopause, menopause, and beyond for active women (runners, ultra runners, cyclists, etc) called: Hit Play Not Pause. So far, I’m on my second episode — the first one was about anxiety, this one is about symptoms of perimenopause other than loss of a regular period. So helpful, especially since it seems there’s so little known about perimenopause!

Lorine Niedecker and Lake Superior

I’ve decided I’d like to do a line-by-line read through of Lorine Niedecker’s “Lake Superior.” Such a good poem, one that I appreciate more as I give more attention to poetry and the gorge.

Iron the common element of earth
in rocks and freighters

Sault Sainte Marie—big boats
coal-black and iron-ore-red
topped with what white castlework

The waters working together
internationally
Gulls playing both sides

This is the second verse? section? fragment? of the poem, with some blank space and an asterisk dividing each short section. I’ll get back to the first section a little later.

coal-black and iron-ore-red — I’d like to put some more color, my versions of color, into my lines — topped with what white castlework — I think I’m being dense, but what does she mean here? Like, (oh) what white castlework!

the waters working together — between Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron — internationally — Canada and the US

Gulls playing both sides — I love how she phrases this with such brevity, the idea of gulls not being subject to the lines/border humans have created. Reading through her notes for this poem, she writes about having to wait in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada until the banks opened in order to exchange money. Was she envious of the gulls who could freely travel between Canada and the US?

opening lines: Yesterday I posted the opening line of “Lake Superior.” Here’s the whole first section:

In every part of every living thing
is stuff that once was rock

In blood the minerals
of the rock

Two other sources of inspiration for my place-based poem are Alice Oswald’s Dart and Susan Tichy’s North | Rock| Edge. Here are their opening lines:

Dart/ Alice Oswald

Who’s this moving alive over the moor?

An old man seeking and finding a difficulty.

North | Rock | Edge/ Susan Tichy

If you can, haul-to within

the terms of anguish :

this rough coast a gate

not map, no compass rose

sketched in a notebook

with certain positions

of uncertain objects

marked—

Reviewing the three sets of lines, I’m noticing how they move differently. LN offers brief, ordered chunks — little rocks? — that you travel between, while AO’s words wander and run into each other. Sometimes she has sentences, sometimes fragments — it flows like a river? ST shares similarities with AO, in terms of wandering and not stopping, but each word almost seems to have equal weight — is that the right way to put it?

In terms of distance, LN is far away, abstract; MO is closer, as we observe a man near the Dart; and with ST, we are right there, on the edge of the rock, moving beside the sea.

Is this helpful to me? To read these three poems closely and together? I’m not sure. Perhaps I should return to LN first. For today, just one more “chunk”:

Radisson:
a laborinth of pleasure”
this world of the Lake

Long hair, long gun

Fingernails pulled out
by Mohawks

I like how LN weaves in some of the “facts” that she discovered in her research — almost like notes, but carefully selected for effect. I think the contrast between Radisson’s pleasure comment and his fingernails being pulled out says a lot. How can I weave in facts? Do I want to?

The poem “Lake Superior” is in two books that I own: Lorine Niedecker Collected Works and Lake Superior. Lake Superior includes a journal with LN’s notes and some critical essays by others. It’s fascinating to read how she transformed her journal notes into these brief lines.

march 13/RUN

4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
55 degrees

A repeat of yesterday, except I wore another layer — black running tights. I thought it was supposed to be colder. I was wrong. Too warm! Other than overheated, I felt good. It wasn’t easy and I had to push myself to keep going near the end. My legs felt heavy. But I did it, and my calf feels okay.

Listened to birds and kids and water rushing as I ran south. Put in my Winter 2024 playlist as I ran back north.

10 Things

  1. the gentle yells of kids on the playground
  2. overheard, one kid: I had NO idea!
  3. uneven, halting rhythm of one or two people pounding nails on the roof of a house
  4. a loud knocking — bird or machine? I couldn’t tell. Then I guessed: a big bird. No — some construction on the other side of the river. I heard it later as I was running back
  5. lots of birdsong everywhere
  6. soft shadows
  7. smell: spring flowers somewhere — real or perfume?
  8. a dozen people together at the falls. I thought I heard one say the word, birding
  9. minnehaha creek, just before falling over the ledge: brown, low, studded with rocks
  10. dirt trail near edmund: lots of roots, some mud

notes from my plague notebook, vol 19

Read the first lines from Lorine Niedecker’s “Lake Superior”:

In every part of every living thing
is stuff that once was rock

Thought about how LN begins her poem by describing the essence of Lake Superior: rock. I started wondering about what I imagine the essence of the Mississippi River Gorge to be — or, at least, the essence (key element) for my Haunts poem.

restless water satisfied stone erosion movement

not 1 or 2 but 3 things: water and stone and their interactions
erosion, making something new — gorge

Then: Water as a poet / stubborn Stone yields, refuses, resists
water = poet / stone = words/language
erosion = absence, silence, making Nothing
me = eroding eyes / stone being shaped / a form of water shaping stone

I wear down the stone with my regular loops

Add a variation of this line, originally in my mood ring, Relentless, somewhere:

I am both limestone and water. As I dissolve my slow steady flow carves out a new geography.

march 12/RUN

4 miles
minnehaha falls
52 degrees

Another wonderful spring morning! Warm, low wind, clear sky. Birds! Shorts! Shadows! Ran south on the dirt trail between edmund and the river road. Only a few stretches of mud. Reached the falls: more cars in the parking lot, people at the overlook. Stopped at my favorite spot and put in my headphones and my winter 2024 playlist.

Earlier today my feet felt a little strange, almost like they wanted to cramp, but during the run, they were fine. My calf complained a few times but mostly felt okay. I’m still anxious about it — should I be resting my calf more? Is it healing? Will I ever stop worrying about it?

Finished a poem in 3 parts about how I see, in particular, how I see birds:

one = the sound of sharp wings, sounding like snipping scissors
two = a shadow overhead, then the idea bird and the feeling of flight
three = a distinctive call, movement from/in the trees, a form comes into view

I think I’ll call it “Birding.”

march 11/WALK

35 minutes
Drs. Dorothy and Irving Bernstein Scenic Rest Area*
52 degrees

*This is the first time, after almost 10 years of living here that I recall reading the sign at the 35th street parking lot overlook. After a quick search, I couldn’t determine who Dorothy and Irving are and what type of doctors they were.

What a wonderful spring day. High of 64 and sun! Such a strange time. Winter hardly happened. The snow total this year: 7.3 inches. Last year: 89.7.

see: The Lost Winter

I miss the crunching snow and the cold air and the big flakes hitting my face and layers and running on ice without slipping and snow walls and desolate river views. And, I’m happy to see spring early — to hear more birds, wear less layers, sit on the deck, open the windows.

Once we reached Drs. Dorothy and Irving Bernstein Scenic Rest Area, we took the gravel path down and around the ravine: a shelf of snow and slick slats on the grate over the seeping water. Otherwise, mostly dry and without mud. Walking back through the neighborhood we noticed some birds — first, their tin-whistle song, then their fleeting forms fluttering across the thin branches. Could I turn this into a part of my bird triptych poem? At first we thought they might be blue jays, but then settled on robins. Did Scott see that they were robins? Not me. All I saw was a small, but not too small form, up in the trees. Mostly, quick, darting movement, then flight, once, hovering on a high-up branch.

Before the walk I wanted to archive two sources:

to archive

james schuyler and color: Reading a past entry from march 11, 2023, I was reminded of James Schuyler and his wonderful use of color. I had forgotten that he was an art critic. Searched, “james schuyler ekphrasis” and found this LARB review of a then recent book (circa 2011) of Schuyler’s poems: Scrappiness. The review gave a lot of attention to one of the poems, which is about a painting, but (maybe?) not an ekphrasis: A Blue Shadow Painting. Here are some color lines I’d like to remember:

It’s like this: the orange assertions, dark there-ness
of the tree, malleable steel-gray blueness of the ground; and sky; 
set against, no, with, living with, existing alongside and part of, 
the helter-skelter of rust brown, of swift indecipherables. The day
is passing, is past: mutable and immutable, came to live, 
on a small oblong of stretched canvas. Blue shadowed day, 
under a milk-of-flowers sky, you’re a talisman, my Calais. 

another line to remember: Not Make it new, but See it, hear it freshly.
listen to the full poem: A Blue Shadow Painting, audio

charles simic: I found a link to this article — Charles Simic and Me/ Dana Levin — on poems.com the other day. I like the brevity of Simic, at least what I’ve read in The New Yorker.

Williams used to say that he could revise a poem twenty different times just by changing the line breaks.

Charles Simic and Me / Dana Levin

Reading this, I immediately thought of an essay I read a few years back: Learning the Poetic Line/ Rebecca Hazelton. I’d like to reread it, and practice its 6 S’s. But — what are some ways other than line breaks to shape the story? Are these line breaks too visual, only achieving their effect when read with eyes and not ears? How can I represent line breaks in a way that resembles how I see? And/or what, other than line breaks, can I use to represent how I find/make/experience the world?

and is more interesting than but

Simic practiced this philosophy of and in all his poems, a metaphysics of radical inclusion: brutality and death were everywhere in life, and they were ordinary.

Charles Simic and Me/ Dana Levin

the real task, for him [WCW], was not to chronicle the development of knowing but to enact, via enjambment, the struggle of seeing—and so to find himself asking the reader to participate in that struggle too, to work with him in empathy?

Charles Simic and Me/ Dana Levin

the struggle of seeing — asking the reader to participate in that struggle too

poems as made things—products of decision, as much as magic

What a wonderful, thought-provoking essay! I think one of the problems with my Haunts poems are the line breaks and the music of the words? I’m using the breathing rhythm of 3/2, but do they all need to fit that strict form? How can the 3/2 feeling being played with in the lines? Adhered to, but in new ways? Yes! I will work on line breaks today and try to see my poems in not new, but fresh ways!

Found this Charles Simic poem in his collection, The Lunatic. My answer to his questions: yes, I have.

Late-Night Inquiry/ Charles Simic

Have you introduced yourself to yourself
The way a visitor at your door would?

Have you found a seat in your room
For every one of your wayward selves

To withdraw into their own thoughts
Or stare into space as if it were a mirror?

Do you have a match you can light
To make their shadows dance on the wall

Or float dream-like on the ceiling
the way leaves do on summer afternoons,

Before they take their bow and the curtain drops
As the match burns down to your fingertips?